I wanted to let you know that I will be retiring from clinical practice as of December 19, 2023. I feel that the time is right for me to move on to the next phase of my life. It has been a privilege working with all my clients, and I want to express my gratitude for your trust and time. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.
If you are looking for a new therapist, it can be challenging to find openings at this time. For your information, I highly recommend the following therapist/agencies:
As we near the end of 2021, here are some interesting ideas (around commemorating life events and tattoos for December…and a wish.
You’re never too old for tattoos!
There are many reasons that we use ‘ink’ to commemorate life events. As someone who gifted me with a tattoo for a significant birthday, I agree with the people quoted in this Guardian article.
We’re not too old to get fit either!
The Guardian seems to focus on the over-50 crowd recently. It seems that we’re becoming a tattooed, physically fit bunch 🙂 This article is quite inspiring…
My final thought for you, the following poem, written by Maureen Killoran, found me the other day. It summarizes what I wish for you, not just for this holiday season, but every season. Take care.
A Christmas Prayer
Not gold, nor myrrh, nor even frankincense would I have for you this season, but simple gifts, the ones that are hardest to find, the ones that are perfect, even for those who have everything (if such there be).
I would (if I could) have for you the gift of courage, the strength to face the gauntlets only you can name, and the firmness in your heart to know that you (yes, you!) can be a bearer of the quiet dignity that is the human glorified.
I would (if by my intention I could make it happen) have for you the gift of connection, the sense of standing on the hinge of time, touching past and future standing with certainty that you (yes, you!) are the point where it all comes together.
I would (if wishing could make it so) have for you the gift of community, a nucleus of love and challenge, to convince you in your soul that you (yes, you!) are a source of light in a world too long believing in the dark.
Not gold, nor myrrh, nor even frankincense, would I have for you this season, but simple gifts, the ones that are hardest to find, the ones that are perfect, even for those who have everything (if such there be).
While T. S. Eliot said that “April is the cruellest month”, I think that November runs a close second (except for Remembrance Day on November 11). November is sandwiched between the colourful splendor and Thanksgiving celebrations of October and the joys that December’s holiday season can bring. It is a month of grey, wet days, sopping leaves waiting to be raked and too-early holiday decorations (including pop star Christmas music) in public places.
For those of us who are grieving, November is also the month when we see holiday celebrations heading towards us, followed by cold winter months. Spring feels a long time away.
Tools for the Holidays
In this edition of Interesting Ideas, I’ve provided links that present tools to help us to cope during this challenging time of the year. In this Psychology Today article there is a list of useful ideas that may make the holiday season easier. I especially appreciate that they are transferable to any ‘celebration’ or ‘special event’.
Do you have a friend who is grieving?
As many of you know, I’m a big fan of Megan Devine and her book “It’s Ok That You’re Not Okay”. Megan also has a website and podcast which is worth visiting on a regular basis. Ms. Devine’s last few posts have been about grieving during the holidays. Her recent blog post on supporting a grieving friend is very good. If you are grieving this is worth sharing with friends as a way of asking for support.
More information about grief…
Finally, if you are looking to hear from others who are steeped in and knowledgeable about grief, I recommend the Grief is a Sneaky Bitch podcast. Lisa Keefauver, MSW, is a social worker, educator, writer, grief guide, and widow. In her podcast, she interviews grievers, educators and other grief experts to provide a wealth of information.
As we roll out of November and into December, I wish you peace and comfort. Stay safe and be well.
Welcome to the Friendship edition of Interesting Ideas!
As Covid case numbers continue to decline (at least where I live in Ontario), and restrictions are removed; many of us are deciding how much (or little) we want to re-enter our pre-pandemic social lives. This may involve questions around reconnecting with relationships that we let go of when lockdowns started.
The following three articles speak to this issue in various ways.
The first article, from the Washington Post, explores the writer’s decision to continue to maintain the small friend group that evolved over the pandemic. Warning: there is a lot of advertising on site…however, the article is worth maneuvering around them.
One aspect of being in relationships is knowing which ones are healthy and which ones deserve a pass. This Well and Good article explores the qualities of healthy relationships, even as they change.
Finally, this article from the Guardian describes an unusual friendship that developed during the early lockdowns and what the writer learned from it.
And…our friendships don’t only happen between humans! Enjoy…take care…and stay safe!
Welcome to the end of September! For many of us, September feels like the beginning of a new year (with return to school, routines and ramped up schedules) more than January 1 ever does.
In this time of Covid, previous September routines have been complicated with concerns about case numbers and the latest safety precautions. And, I find that I briefly forget about this new type of September when I look outside. The trees changing colour, with the wind blowing the ‘early turners’ across the road. I grab my favourite sweater when leaving the house in the morning–one that hasn’t been worn since May. Neighbourhood kids are laughing as they wait for the school bus. When we are dealing with difficult things in life, it’s the small moments that help to get through them.
Here’s some interesting ideas for September. I hope that you find them to be as helpful and interesting as I did.
Boundaries–We all Need Them
Understanding and setting boundaries can be two of the most confusing and difficult skills that we learn as humans. What they are, how we set them and enforce them; changes based on circumstance, relationship and personality. If we have grown up in a family where boundaries were absent, this practice becomes even more challenging.
This article in The Guardian speaks to the power of saying no, as a way to build strong boundaries. I especially appreciate that the author talks about the obstacles to setting boundaries in a variety of settings–including at work.
A cancer diagnosis is terrifying enough…and then there are the follow-up actions that are needed–such as how or if we tell our children. This Atlantic article by Caitlin Flanagan is a continuation of her article that was included in the Interesting Ideas for August 2021 post. Both articles, written from the position of 20 years after her diagnosis, provide key information to people (and their loved ones) going through cancer now. Her thoughts are timeless.
More About Walking
And finally, in the Interesting Ideas post for July 2021, I included this Guardian article that told the poignant story of one woman’s 150-mile walking journey along the Thames River from London to Oxford to visit her brother’s grave and the realizations that she had along the way.
Now, here’s an Atlantic article about a family’s hike of the Camino de Santiago in Spain. The author talks about the history of this pilgrimage, it’s place in popular culture and what he learned during the 100 mile trek. As a bonus, the author makes reference to Greg McKeown’s bookEssentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. I love this book!
If you would like to read another account of hiking the Camino, I recommend Jane Christmas’ bookWhat the Psychic Told the Pilgrim.
Labour Day (in Canada) is fast approaching–with hopefully the end to any more heatwaves! As we come to the official end of Summer 2021, here are some articles that I found to be worth a read…Enjoy!
The Difficult Questions About Vaccine Status
Every stage of the pandemic has asked that we change and/or learn new skills. In the beginning, some of us had to become more tech-savvy (remember early struggles with Zoom and Instacart?). Through trial and error, we’ve negotiated how, or even if, to send our kids to school. Relationships have been altered–some for better and some for worse. We’ve had to cope with it all.
Now as more of us are vaccinated, we are being asked to navigate the new world of “vaccine status”. This Washington Post article provides etiquette and sensible advice about many current situations that many of us will encounter as time goes on.
Unfortunately, Some Things Didn’t Go Away
Covid-19 has taken up so much of our mind space since it began. At the same time, it didn’t chase away other difficult things. The pandemic overlaid all of our experiences–including Cancer.
Caitlin Flanagan, a staff writer at The Atlantic, looks back on her experience with breast cancer and the “helpful?” advice that she was given along the way. I appreciate how her article shines a light on some of the cultural misconceptions we share about battling cancer and how they can affect cancer patients.
A “Sheepish” Tribute
There are many ways to honour our loved ones who have died. This Australian sheep farmer did so in a very unique way. Please check out this heartwarming story and video from the BBC.
As I write this post, it’s early July and incredibly warm—not a fan of 39 degree days! I have no idea where we’ll be by the end of July when this blog is scheduled to be posted. My hope is that we will be farther along in opening back up, as more of us are fully vaccinated, case numbers are down and fewer of our loved ones are in the hospital battling Covid.
No matter what your temperature :-), here are the interesting ideas links for this month.
The pandemic has changed the way that we hold funeral services (or even if we do) and how we celebrate our loved ones who have died. This Guardian article tells the poignant story of one woman’s 150-mile walking journey along the Thames River from London to Oxford to visit her brother’s grave and the realizations that she had along the way.
The following two items; an article from the Atlantic and a post from the blog Food52, help us to maneuver as we work our way through post-pandemic social norms around what is now considered to be polite when interacting with others and how to host gatherings. What is the expectations around physical contact? Distancing? How do you have explicit conversations about who is being invited and what the ground rules will be? I especially like the use of compassion in these areas as everyone is at a different place in their re-entry journey. Being around others can bring both a profound sense of relief and its own emotional hurdles and compassion can help us navigate it.
Life continues to be interesting. Depending on where you live, and the status of your vaccination schedule, your life may be seeing signs of returning to some sort of pre-pandemic normalcy. While many of us have been craving and dreaming of being out in the world, now that the reality is getting closer, many of us are also feeling anxious about what this may actually look like.
Many people I have spoken to, both personally and professionally, are concerned about social anxiety, loss of confidence and fear of leaving their homes after almost 15 months of being stuck at home. On one hand, we want to be out and about, yet on the other, our Covid routines are safe and predictable. In March 2020, our world ground to a screeching halt, and we adjusted. And, it is reopening at a slower rate, giving us time to re-enter with awareness.
The following three interesting articles speak to this return to society. This commentary from the Guardian suggests ways to re-approach friends that have fallen to the wayside during the pandemic.
We talk about guilt a lot. Not only is it one of the most common topics of discussion during therapy, but it’s also a buzzword in our conversations with others. “I feel so guilty about eating that second piece of cake.” “My guilty COVID pleasure is binge-watching Sponge Bob Square Pants.” “My partner makes me feel guilty after I’ve watched the 100th episode of Sponge Bob.” While we focus on guilt, we forget about shame and regret. But what do these words actually mean?
On a hot summer day in 1973, three 12-year-old boys (Dave, Mike and Steve) are playing baseball in the empty lot at the end of their street. They’re engrossed in their game—taking turns being batter, pitcher and fielder. Suddenly, Mike hits a perfect homer. They watch as the ball takes off, amazed at its distance and speed as it travels out of the lot. However, their fascination quickly ends with the crash of the ball going through the cranky “old man Smith’s” living room window. The boys scatter to the wind, hoping that they won’t get caught.
Thinking they are safe back in Steve’s garage, they’re unaware that the event was seen by another neighbour, who reported them to Mr. Smith.
As the story goes…parents were informed, lectures were given and punishments received. In this case, the boys had to do a few days of yard work for Mr. Smith to make up for the cost of the broken window.
Years later the boys (now men) meet at a school reunion. As they reminisce about their childhoods, their memories weave around to that day in the empty lot. Interestingly, the three men had different reactions to the memory. Dave didn’t really want to talk about that particular event, and when pressed said that he felt shame that he had run away when the window broke. Mike, on the other hand, said that he felt guilty–especially now that he had his own home and knew how much work and expense it would be to fix that window. Steve expressed his regret, as he thinks about those perfect summer days spent weeding Mr. Smith’s garden when he could have been riding his bike in the gravel pit.
Shame, Guilt and Regret—They’re Not the Same Thing
While we often use these words interchangeably, they don’t mean the same thing.
When we feel shame, it’s because we believe that we, personally, are bad.
When we feel guilt, we recognize that we did something bad.
With regret, we wish that we had done something different.
While the differences seem subtle, these words carry a lot of power. They speak to our core beliefs and resulting self-esteem.
The Concept of Toxic Shame
The most dangerous of these three is the concept of shame because of how it is intrinsically linked to how we see ourselves. Often starting in childhood, born of the negative comments of parents and others around us on our self-worth and calls into question if we are wanted or even loveable. Being unable to see ourselves as worthy of love is a key core belief related to toxic shame.
That shame can lead us to a place of fear (that our world isn’t safe for us) that can make us extremely susceptible to low self-esteem, an attitude of perfectionism, as well as anxiety and depression.
How do you cope with toxic shame? It is a process, working with a therapist to help reform your core beliefs about yourself. They will help both your adult self and your “inner child”, doing healing work and helping you rebuild and increase your sense of self-esteem.
What to Do With Guilt
Guilt, like so many of the difficult emotions (anger, fear, hate, etc), can be a tremendous teacher. Events that make us feel guilty give us valuable insight into our values and who we are as people. For Mike, for example, he realized he valued the hard work that goes into turning a house into a home and how adulthood brings about the need for proper stewardship of resources.
Even mild forms of guilt (like eating too much cake or binge-watching your favourite TV show, gives insight. It is your subconscious providing breadcrumbs to what you’d like to change about your behaviour in the future.
While we can have strong regrets about the past, I often think of regret as being somewhat ‘bitter-sweet’. If only…
The key to looking at regret is to remember the context of the events while looking at ourselves through the eyes of compassion. Hindsight is 20/20, and it’s easy to judge ourselves from our present position. It’s important to take some time to think about where we were at the time–how old were we? What was our developmental level? What coping strategies and supports did we have access to? Can we honestly say that we did the best we could at the time?
For both guilt and regret, there may be the option of making amends or a ‘do over’.
Just like Dorothy’s fear of lions and tigers and bears…shining a light on these emotions can help us to make positive changes, lessen their hold on us and perhaps learn something along the way.
Covid-19 has brought us all many curve balls in the past 14 months. We have collectively had to adapt, pivot, react, adjust and so much more. I thought this post from the archives spoke to our collective need to be able to cope and that we don’t always cope as well as we might. I hope you find a nugget or two in here that helps you manage the curve balls already thrown and any more that might be on their way.
From the Archives: When Life Throws You a Curve Ball
You don’t have to do it all. Sometimes life throws us a curve ball. Maybe we have been diagnosed with a serious illness. Our partner has ended the relationship or died. Something else happens, and we suddenly find ourselves living alone and struggling to cope.
It is at the curve ball points in life that people often seek out a therapist. When I’m working with people who are at this point, one of the common challenges they are encountering isn’t emotional but involves the regular tasks of life. They are stressed about home maintenance, groceries, laundry, auto repairs, cutting the grass/snow shovelling…all the ‘bricks and mortar’ things that need to be done, no matter what else is going on in life.
It is these seemingly ‘simple’ items that can make our situation appear to be even worse than it already is. Everything is overwhelming.
Edith is a 40-year-old, parent of 10-year-old twins. She was diagnosed two years ago with fibromyalgia. By working with her doctor and making lifestyle changes, her symptoms had decreased significantly. Just as Edith thought that life was beginning to feel manageable, her long-term partner said that they wanted to end their relationship and was moving across the country.
Edith was devastated! Suddenly she became a single parent of twins as well as in charge of running the household on her own. The increase in stress led to an increase in her symptoms. Anyone of these changes in life situations would be enough to make someone feel overwhelmed. Unfortunately, Edith was handed both–with one exacerbating the other. Edith was having trouble coping.
The Power of Habit
One thing that is true about humans, is that we are ‘creatures of habit’. If we’ve done something for a while, we feel that we should continue to do it…and in the same way. On some level this mode of being serves us well. We don’t have to keep rethinking how to do routine tasks…we go on autopilot, leaving brain space to think about other things. However, sometimes this habit isn’t in our best interest. We need to make alterations. Habits are difficult to overcome when our lives are on an even keel, and when we are stressed we don’t usually have the mental space to make changes.
When I suggest to people that they may want to try something different, I’m often met with the response “but I’ve always done it that way” or “so and so will be so disappointed if I stop doing this” or “If I don’t do it, I’m failing as a …..”.
These comments especially come out at curve ball times, when we trying to cope with a new reality.
We Don’t Have To Do It All!
It often comes as a surprise to people that they don’t have to do it all. They are allowed to ask for help or ‘outsource’ tasks.
Both the authors speak from experience (Gail through multiple divorces; Victoria because of the death of a spouse). Between the two of them, they cover everything from coping during the early stages of change to childcare to dating to housing. They share their thoughts and experience on what to look for as you make decisions on whether to outsource or not.
The thing that I appreciate most about this book is that it gives the reader permission not to have to do everything. In fact, the authors logically explain why it’s impossible–especially if you’re trying to cover the work of a missing person when life has been turned upside down.
After a while, Edith realized that she needed help with her ‘to do’ list. She figured out what she could manage based on her health and time commitments. Talking with her therapist she was able to see how the difficult emotions of grief and guilt were getting in the way of making choices about what tasks she could let go of. Edith knew that, after her own self-care, her main priority was supporting her children through this change.
Once Edith became clear about where she wanted to focus her energy, she created the list of what else needed to be done and who could help. Even though Edith didn’t feel comfortable asking for help, she began to accept offers from friends and family. Thankfully, she could afford to pay someone for any other help she needed.
The road ahead for Edith and her children wasn’t going to be easy, and at least she had less on her plate taking up her time and energy.
But What if you can’t afford to hire someone?
Not everyone is as fortunate as Edith in being able to hire help. This is where your support system can come in–those friends and family members who help each other when the going gets tough. With an established support system, we’re less likely to feel uncomfortable asking for help.
However, not everyone has been able to create such a system, either due to being new to an area, work pressures, etc. So where can we look for help when facing a curve ball?
Talk to the people you know and explain what you’re looking for. You may not be able to get help for free, but there are often people who are willing to do work at a lower rate.
If you belong to a church group or other organization let people know that you need support. You don’t need to go into a lot of detail, and most organizations (especially religious groups) have committees or ministry staff set up to help.
Check with local high schools for students looking for volunteer hours. In Ontario, secondary students are required to complete 40 volunteer hours before graduation. Volunteering for household chores does count towards these hours–since they’re not being paid.
And now if you decide to get help for household repairs or chores, watch out for this guy! It’s some classic British comedy for the series Some Mothers Do Av Em. Enjoy!