Category Archives: healing

A Life Cut Short

Drew_Self-Portrait_2012

Drew_Self-Portrait_2012

A young friend took his life this week. He had just turned 31. He was handsome, funny, energetic, and so bright. And he was so desperate and discouraged that he could not see a future for himself in this world. He suffered from bipolar disorder and social anxiety, yet excelled in building online communities, seeing other’s needs, and identifying creative solutions to address them. Still he could not do this for himself.

Depression is insidious. It distorts memory and perception, so that one cannot recall nor foresee a time when feelings other than hopelessness and despair exist.

He had a support community: friends and family who loved him and wanted more than anything to keep him in a world of hope and acceptance. Depression refused to let them in and blocked his path out.

Suicide is not a selfish act, purposefully inflicting pain on surviving family and friends. It is not a cowardly act, demonstrating some inability to confront the future. It is not an angry act, designed to show others that they should have acted differently. It is an act of hopelessness, an act of acceptance, an act of assuming control over what feels inevitable, an act seeking relief, and often an act of removing the burden of oneself from the care of others – so the others may move on unimpeded. The emotional and thought distortion of depression creates its own world. He believed there was no other way.

There are many people today thinking they could have done something differently that would have saved him from this fate. Humans, at least in Western culture, tend to believe they can control outcomes if they just work hard enough to find the “right” answer to a problem. I know in this case, his friends and family did all they could to keep him safe.

I hope he has found peace. I hope he is in touch with his joy of riding.

Happy Trails, Drew.

When comedian/actor Robin Williams took his life last year, the nation’s attendance focused briefly on the dangers of depression and the woeful lack of appropriate response and available assistance, even to those with the means to access it. Perhaps the large response happened because so many people felt they knew this person. That has faded now. Now the pain and loss is felt one family at a time again. Nothing has changed to improve the understanding or treatment of the disease. We need to commit to addressing this.

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a new beginning

Holidays are not always welcomed diversions. Often the holidays are a microcosm of family and personal dysfunction, reminders of failings or deprivation. Often they contain concentrated doses of complicated relationships . Those of us raised by parents who turned to alcohol to ease their distress may remember these as times of exaggerated merriment, anger, broken promises and uncertainty. Many breathe a sigh of relief when the period passes and the new year is clearly underway. Perhaps we should have a quiet celebration of survival on January 7 each year, marking the return to our regular lives and the proportions of happiness and distress we usually feel. I’m not feeling that need this year.

Somehow the holidays are approaching and I do not feel the usual gut clench or anxiety about getting things wrong or being terribly disappointed. I’m not filled with exaggerated hopes or fears – I just am here in the day, the evening, the event as they come. Maybe I have graduated into some stage of adulthood or wisdom, or maybe I am fooling myself. I’ll have to wait and see. It would be nice to stay calm and open to whatever is.

I am drawing to a close the reconstruction of a house. It has been long in the making – many years in thought and over a year in the actual demolition and reconstruction. It was a house much like a life – started as a small complete structure (in 1929), then repurposed, reshaped, added on to, redone, converted to another use, then back again. It was a house with no flow. The rooms added on to serve a specific purpose but without much thought to how they fit or complemented what existed before. Often rooms appeared to be spontaneous reactions to an idea and a burst of energy. Things were designed to make do rather than to facilitate or assist the functioning of its residents.

That is changing. The footprint of the foundation remains the same- but that’s about all. Today the house presents a place for its family to live and thrive; to move easily from room to room; to provide comfort (Insulation and a good heating system are doing their part as tested in our recent polar weather); to allow camaraderie in cooking and eating; to shelter guests; and protect aging bones from exposure to the weather when coming and going. The windows face the beauty of the lot and bring in light. It no longer just makes do. The house welcomes, protects, and comforts us. It has been long in coming and it took a change in me to have it happen.

It is hard to explain the shift. It isn’t about luxury or poverty. It isn’t about frivolity. It’s about something more subtle and in a way about something more primal. This house represents wanting to be kind and caring toward myself. It’s about believing finally that it really is ok to have ease, comfort, and pleasure in my everyday surroundings and to be able to share those with others.

It’s kind of complicated. I was raised believing I would never have all that I needed, let alone wanted. I don’t think I particularly wanted more than others, But our family was just always in a financial situation that fell short of others we knew. My father couldn’t provide for us financially and my mother’s father stepped in, but his help came clearly labeled as something that could be withdrawn if taken for granted or if perceived in any way as being mis-used. We were taught – as I’m sure many children were- that whatever we had was good enough. Of course, we were also taught by experience to seize the opportunity when there were resources. Money management always seemed a struggle. Over the years it was difficult to discern wants and wishes from necessities, and to learn to trust that there would be enough. I’m sure my siblings and I have had some similiar and some unique spending patterns over the years, but I know I struggled between buying supplies far ahead of any needed amounts, and sometimes careless spontaneous spending trying to fill some emptiness I didn’t recognize. I believe I have come to develop some balance over the decades of my adult life, but it wasn’t easy nor a fast process. Luckily, I have also been generous with my earnings – as I never really saw them as just mine but rather a resource I could share with others. I have not regretted any of that sharing.

Once years ago, I had a psychic reading and was assured that I did not need to worry about money, that I would always have enough. For some reason, that was very reassuring to me. I believed it. At first, I believed that there would be some other source of funding that would become known to me as I needed it, and then, over time, I came to believe that whatever I had, it would be enough. That has given me great relief.

So in retirement, we have decided to take our resources and create a home that comforts and protects us. I love the land where we live, and so it made sense to build the home there, keeping the foundation and creating an entirely new structure. We will greet the new year in this new house – compact, strong, revitalized, and ready to live new chapters. The holidays mark a beginning this year, rather than an end, and it is a beginning I am excited to see.

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Remember, this forum is not intended to be therapy. I have no way to view your body language, hear your tone of voice, or see if your words and your displayed emotions are matching. These are essential to effective communication and great tools for the therapist (and for the consumer when reversed.) I will attempt to be as helpful as I can. I will refer you the best I can to needed services. Even though I will not be your therapist, I am bound by law and ethics to act to protect persons from harm. I am required to report my concerns of harm to self or others, and suspected abuse of children and vulnerable adults. I am located and providing these services in Washington State.

Again, I am open to communicating directly with you here. If you have questions or concerns, please leave a comment. I will attempt to address the content if I can.

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Back on Track

It is amazing that the year has flown by and I haven’t written since March. Now it’s time for another Holiday Season. I’m not sure what happened, except that I continued to feel angry at the political climate in this country and at the politicians. I grew up in a time when we were taught, if you don’t have something nice to say, then don’t say anything. Maybe that has been operating, because I haven’t had a lot of nice things to say. Or maybe I have been trying to avoid my feelings of anger and frustration, and did not want to raise the issues again, or maybe I have been frustrated by wanting to keep my topics non-political, since my training as a mental health counselor and as a mediator has spent so much time on maintaining neutrality, that I have not wanted to compromise that. I don’t feel neutral. I have strong feelings and opinions. I’m just not sure they are compatible with my intention for this blog – that it be a resource for people exploring their feelings and relationships, not mine.

Politically, I am a liberal or a progressive.  I feel our taxes should be used to protect and support our people. I want people to discuss issues and compromise on workable solutions. I am willing to pay taxes for schools and police and medical services. I do not believe that feeding the hungry causes poverty or sloth.  I don’t believe policies that are legislated by a majority are tyranny.  I am concerned that our political practices are becoming more divisive more self-serving than ever.  I am saddened by the followings that self-serving people spewing hate and prejudice have built, somehow reinforcing the concept that “if you disagree with me, then there is something terribly wrong with you.”

How do we rebuild an environment where people can disagree, discuss their differences, identify the issues that can be agreed to, and seek some resolution that considers both views? We need to move forward in this country, in a way that recognizes the needs of all, and with solutions that consider those.  Instead legislators continue to be willing to cause great harm, even when there is nothing to gain. The sequestration – a solution deemed to dire for anyone to reasonable consider – and the shutdown were irresponsible. If our elected leaders cannot resolve their differences and work toward solutions that serve the people, they need to be replaced with people who will strive to serve – not just obstruct.

We live in an incredible place. Our geography is varied, our resources plenty. Still, our laws and policies favor adding to the wealth of those with resources and increasing the deprivations of those with little.  Are baby-boomers going to be the last generation with a middle-class?  I hope not.

I am grateful to be American, to live in a community that is beautiful, and that usually works toward serving the needs of its people.  I am grateful that my work was satisfying, and that my retirement is possible because of the social systems in place while I was working and now. I feel responsible for continuing to support caring for the poor. I am grateful I have the means to pay taxes, and to purchase the insurance I need for medical care.  I am grateful I had the opportunity to work with many great professionals and to serve great people. I love meeting children and adults years after our working relationship, and see them thriving.  That is the true reward of my work.

I am grateful to approach 70 with few complications and a sense of wonder.  It astounds me.

This week, our nation will gather for Thanksgiving. And while there are still many wrongs to be righted, and battles to be fought, I approach it with a hope that we will find our path again – one toward compassion combined with hard work, a sense of personal accountability and responsibility, tempered with good will.

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Remember, this forum is not intended to be therapy.  I have no way to view your body language, hear your tone of voice, or see if your words and your displayed emotions are matching.  These are essential to effective communication and great tools for the therapist (and for the consumer when reversed.) I will attempt to be as helpful as I can. I will refer you the best I can to needed services. Even though I will not be your therapist, I am by law and ethics to act to protect persons from harm. I am required to report my concerns of  harm to self or others, and suspected abuse of children and vulnerable adults.  I am located and providing these services in Washington State.

Again, I am open to communicating directly with you here.  If you have questions or concerns, please leave a comment. I will attempt to address the content if I can.

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Filed under behavior, change, emotional healing, habits, healing, patterns, problem solving, relationship, self-care, wellbeing

Tired of being Angry

I’ve been really angry lately. It seems like everything irritates me. No, that’s not really accurate.  I haven’t been bothered by the weather that varies from dark blustery winds and rain to “sun breaks” (brief appearances by the sun in the Pacific Northwest) or that keeps the temperature moving between the low 30’s and high 50’s (°F).  I haven’t been mad at the dog – our 11 year old “grand-pup” who we are fortunate enough to have during most workdays.  She gets me out walking and is a sweet companion.

I’ve been mad at people, particularly people with leadership and organizational responsibilities.  I am angry at folks that posture to promote themselves while concerns of the members or citizens remain unresponded to. I’m angry at people of means and power who rant and snark at the struggles of the people with less. I’m angry at people who say, “Let me know your concerns and how I can help,” then discount the pleas with, “That’s not really a problem. You are not doing enough to help yourself.” I have felt surrounded by these people recently in my organizations and in our government.

When leadership focuses on serving its members and citizens, the connections between people grow and good things happen. Needed change arises out of the inquiry, assessment, analysis, action, and evaluation. The organization stays viable. When leaders see their positions only as opportunities to build personal power and status, the organization becomes stagnant and starts depriving the membership of sustenance and belonging.

What does this have to do with health? Everything. Health comes from balance.

If we were struggling for our very survival- literally the threat of death, perhaps these responses would be appropriate. I’m not saying survival isn’t important. But most of the issues today aren’t about threatening the physical survival of the leaders or the groups they represent.  Most of our organizational and political issues are about promoting a personal belief system, maintaining status in power and comfort, or feeding personal pride. We have lost sight of promoting healthy systems of cooperation, collaboration, inclusion, and caring for the whole instead of the special interest.

I have been discouraged by my response to all this, because I want to retreat rather than fight for change. I used to be a crusader. Now I want to just escape it all; to get away from the rhetoric, the blaming, the name-calling, and self-righteous attacks on others.  I’m not sure what to do.  I know it isn’t healthy for me to carry this anger around.  I want to release it but I don’t want to ignore what is happening. I’m not asking for no conflict. I’m asking for openness, honesty, and true assessment of options as people address conflict. I feel like, as my mother used to say, “ I might as well be asking for the moon.”

At this point, I intend to continue to take the actions I believe will lead to improvement. I intend to behave consistently with my beliefs and goals. I will strive for generosity in how I view others and their beliefs and goals.  I will breathe more deeply.  I will take my grand-pup on more walks. I will not eat to calm my anger. (- 42)

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Remember, this forum is not intended to be therapy.  I have no way to view your body language, hear your tone of voice, or see if your words and your displayed emotions are matching.  These are essential to effective communication and great tools for the therapist (and for the consumer when reversed.) I will attempt to be as helpful as I can. I will refer you the best I can to needed services. Even though I will not be your therapist, I am a health care professional bound by law and ethics to act to protect persons from harm. I am required to report my concerns of  harm to self or others, and suspected abuse of children and vulnerable adults.  I am located and providing these services in Washington State.

Again, I am open to communicating directly with you here.  If you have questions or concerns, please leave a comment. I will attempt to address the content if I can.

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Filed under behavior, counseling, emotional healing, habits, healing, mental health, patterns, Penny Milczewski, self-care, wellbeing

Discomfort and Joy – the Holidays

Zowie, I lost track of time. I informally made a commitment to myself that I would post weekly, then things got busy, and I gave myself permission to go to 2 weeks. Then a month – now two.  I have been thinking about writing- even started several posts in my head, but of course you wouldn’t know that. How could you? I have been sticking with my food plan and 13 weeks in I have lost 30 pounds.  I wish I could tell you I had met my goal, but alas it’s further down the road.

The holiday season – the dreaded, beloved, often anticipated (not always happily) holiday season. The ambivalence that accompanied the holidays exists for many people- fond memories of happier times, or maybe frightening memories of terrible times, realizations of hopes unmet, gratefulness, sadness, the joy of feeling childlike, the helpless dread of feeling childlike. These all occur for me as Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve approach.

Like many adult children of alcoholics, I remember Christmas as a time when the fun and excitement was often dampened by sullen drunkenness, broken promises, someone sleeping it off, or being belligerent. It was a time when parents fought about money. I don’t remember my parents fighting about spending the holidays with my mother’s large family, but my father always refused to go.  That didn’t stop us. I don’t think my maternal cousins knew my dad at all, even though my parents didn’t divorce until their youngest were in junior high. And yet – I still looked forward to it, hoped for the best – that everyone would be happy.

As an adult I often had a dread of not being good enough in my planning, my cooking, my dressing, my gift-giving, whatever… You name it and I worried that it wouldn’t be “right.” It was hard to relax and enjoy times with friends and family. It was hard to play while keeping a watchful eye on all the possibilities that could go wrong.

I am grateful now that most of those fears are gone. One thing that surviving into your sixties does is to give you perspective. There is no turkey so dry or roast beef so rare that a meal needs to be ruined.  There is no need for finances to dampen the joy of being together with people who love you and whom you love.  There is also no need to do that on December 24 or 25, if those days don’t work for you.  The world doesn’t collapse if there is no Christmas tree or if outdoor lights don’t go up or come down on schedule. Or if you don’t get all those different cookies baked.

We have continually increased the commercial demands in the U.S. for this season to be filled with material things. In 1969, pregnant with our first child, I wrote a Christmas song that began “Hot Wheels and Barbie dolls…Visa or Mastercard,” and ended with “where is the baby that lies in the manger?” That was 43 years ago. I was dismayed then at all the commercials and focus on buying things. The products have multiplied geometrically. Instead of growing wiser as a nation, we have focused more on having things to demonstrate our well-being. Things, not peace, justice, serenity, or joy.  That’s what I want for Christmas and for the new year, and if it has any chance of happening, I need to do my part.

My challenge for this season is to urge all the political contributors (the donors of more than $2 billion in the presidential campaign alone) to match their campaign and PAC contributions with donations to charity.  If that happens, 2013 could be a very good year.

Peace to you all

Take Care and Be Well

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Remember, this forum is not intended to be therapy.  I have no way to view your body language, hear your tone of voice, or see if your words and your displayed emotions are matching.  These are essential to effective communication and great tools for the therapist (and for the consumer when reversed.) I will attempt to be as helpful as I can. I will refer you the best I can to needed services. Even though I will not be your therapist, I am a health care professional bound by law and ethics to act to protect persons from harm. I am required to report my concerns of  harm to self or others, and suspected abuse of children and vulnerable adults.  I am located and providing these services in Washington State.

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Filed under behavior, change, childhood trauma, emotional healing, habits, healing, mental health, patterns, Penny Milczewski, relationship, self-care, wellbeing

Bad habits die hard…good ones start even harder

I wish knowing what you should do was as helpful as doing it. I know what a healthy slender person eats. I know the traps to avoid. I know the counterparts to many unhealthy behaviors. I know how to exercise appropriately. I know the needed actions to lower cholesterol, to improve BMI, to improve balance, muscle tone, and core body strength. I know I should floss daily and brush at least twice a day.

Knowing isn’t enough. Knowing what to do and how to do it doesn’t make it happen. Practice makes it happen. Intent makes it happen, until it becomes ingrained as a habit.  I don’t know what happened to my grooming habits.  I remember as a child the required morning and nightly tooth care, the daily bedmaking, the weekly put your room in order.  Somehow I didn’t take that with me – at least not permanently, when I left home.  Perhaps as I grew to reject the shame and chaos of my childhood, I also set aside the good things.  About 8 years ago,  in my mid 50’s, I was replacing my eyeglass lenses because the old ones were to0 scratched. The optician recommended I clean them each day with warmwater and liquid soap. I complained that was hard to remember. He suggested, ” Just wash them as often as you floss your teeth.” If I washed my glasses as often as I flossed my teeth,  I’d miss out on lots of reading!

I always floss the day I go to the dentist. I remember seing a cartoon strip where the character shows up at the dentist with small bandaids crossed all across his gums.  The dentist remarks, “Adam, I see you flossed this morning!”  I don’t think we fool our dentist or her hygienest.  We only fool ourselves.  I always report in questionnaires that I floss – ashamed to admit I don’t follow this simple effective dental hygiene protocol.   I’ll do it for a week or two – always after a cleaning. I like the feel of those clean teeth with minimized plaque. But one session missed is usually enough to revert to the old default of neglect and drop the new pattern of self care.

Sometimes to carry out a healthy regimen, I need to pretend I’m caring for someone else.  If this person in the mirror were my child, I’d want her to develop the habit of brushing and flossing routinely; of always using sunscreen; of good sleep habits; of making healthy choices when eating and exercising.  I’d be firm but loving- helping her develop the habits and self discipline as a way to care for herself . And I’d want to do it without shaming or bullying. That’s not usually how I talk to myself.

Most, if not all child rearing practices encourage the development of good habits and routines. I remember all the parenting and child psych training about establishing routines, bedtime, meal time, after-school homework, etc..  If a child has poor sleep patterns, the solution is to develop routines that link activities (bath, bed, story, light out)  repeated consistently over time. The child learns and integrates the pattern.  The mind associates one step wit the next, and a habit is formed. Routines create predictability.  Predictability provides a sense of safety and reduces anxiety. Routines soothe us. They allow us to relax, to let go. They give us a consistent platform from which to start or end the day.  They are built with repetition, over time.

I’m planning on introducing some new simple routines. There are several tasks I would like to convert to habits.  I know I’m capable of developing habits – I have several that are not very helpful!

Take care, be well –

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Remember, this forum is not intended to be therapy.  I have no way to view your body language, hear your tone of voice, or see if your words and your displayed emotions are matching.  These are essential to effective communication and great tools for the therapist (and for the consumer when reversed.) I will attempt to be as helpful as I can. I will refer you the best I can to needed services. Even though I will not be your therapist, I am a health care professional bound by law and ethics to act to protect persons from harm. I am required to report my concerns of  harm to self or others, and suspected abuse of children and vulnerable adults.  I am located and providing these services in Washington State.

Again, I am open to communicating directly with you here.  If you have questions or concerns, please leave a comment. I will attempt to address the content if I can.

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Filed under behavior, change, counseling, emotional healing, habits, healing, mental health, patterns, Penny Milczewski, psychotherapy, Uncategorized, wellbeing

“Insanity” or change?

I started a weight loss program last week, deciding that my condition was not going to change unless I actually did something significantly different.  I find that I move along aware of the problem, thinking about the problem, wishing my habits would change, even planning to change, but not taking the steps needed.  (It reminds me of the long touted saying , ” Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”)  So I changed something.  I find I do better with support, so I joined an organized program.  Others like to take on these challenges with fierce independence. If there is something you want to change, choose a path that works for you, that addresses your challenges.

The process of making changes is interesting. I find that too often I start with goals that are too big.  I often start with the end goal. Transformation takes place one step at a time.  Think of building a house.  I picture the finished house, then start looking at all the aspects of completing a house and feel overwhelmed.  It’s not really an effective way to get things done. Breaking into pieces and identifying the sequence helps the task actually get accomplished.  Get the plans, get the permit, complete the foundation, raise the walls, build the roof… you get the picture.  Some people might call these baby steps and maybe they are. It’s a process of breaking down the task into segments that can be identified, defined, and accomplished.  If you skip any steps, the end product doesn’t materialize.

All projects, (losing weight, building houses, changing habits, seeking help) start with incremental steps. They take time and perseverance. Change is a project. My project is a pretty big one. I’m sure there will be roadblocks, maybe set-backs, but I intend to keep going toward completing the project, one do-able task at a time.

You can do this, too.

Take Care,

 

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Remember, this forum is not intended to be therapy.  I have no way to view your body language, hear your tone of voice, or see if your words and your displayed emotions are matching.  These are essential to effective communication and great tools for the therapist (and for the consumer when reversed.) I will attempt to be as helpful as I can. I will refer you the best I can to needed services. Even though I will not be your therapist, I am a health care professional bound by law and ethics to act to protect persons from harm. I will be required to report my concerns of  harm to self or others, and suspected abuse of children and vulnerable adults.  I am located and providing these services in Washington State.

Again, I am open to communicating directly with you through this forum.  If you have questions or concerns, please let me know. I will attempt to address them if I can.

Leave a comment

Filed under counseling, healing, mental health, Penny Milczewski, therapist