As the days grow a little longer and the temperatures begin to flirt with the idea of staying above freezing, my gardening soul grows restless. I feel a need to get my hands in the dirt and order more seeds than I could possibly ever grow. I love my garden. One thing I love about gardening is that as I work, I often find myself making connections to the therapeutic work I do. There is something about open air and plants that leave me feeling connected to the earth, and waxing poetic about my existence on it. (more…)
As I write this, it is exactly one year ago that my phone exploded with emails detailing how every organization I was involved with would be closing due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It was terrifying, and if I’m being totally honest, a little bit thrilling to see life as we knew it shift and evolve completely. I sensed that we were a part of history, and that this would be a day I would remember for the rest of my life. As time has moved slowly forward, and we haven’t reached normality yet, I have found myself musing over the lessons we’ve learned during this unique time.
What have we learned?
We are resilient.
Persistence works. We keep on living even in the face of tough things. We can do hard things. We can beat our personal Goliaths. For many, the pandemic has been a time where mental health struggles have increased. Rates of eating disorders have increased, rates of domestic violence have increased. People have lost their jobs and lost their loved ones – the pandemic has been horrifying for so many people across the world. And if you’re reading this, you’ve made it through that. You can do hard things!
We work well together; together is better than alone.
There has been a special sense of togetherness that I’ve felt while we’ve been separated from one another. My parents (who still live in England) have been totally locked down since March of last year, with strict rules regulating when they can leave their house, for what purpose, and how often. They are not allowed to see other people at all. Yet, they reported that there is a marvelous sense of togetherness that they each feel while segregated in their own homes, almost like the feeling that prevailed during the war years of the 1940s. They expressed a sentiment that abounds in the UK is that we humans are stronger than any of these elements that wage against us, and that we will simply be victorious. While we may be physically separated from our loved ones, we can share in that glorious feeling that we are fighting the same battle and will eventually succeed.
We are creative and adaptive.
Look how we have adapted to this situation! We are used to sanitizing everything, wearing masks, and using zoom like it’s all we’ve ever known. We’ve been creative and learned that it’s OK to ask for help to meet our typical demands in an unusual environment. For some that might look like extensions for deadlines, for others that could be changing their job, and for others that could be looking for the silver lining like being able to wear pajama bottoms most of the time.
We need to take care of ourselves, in all ways.
Self-care has almost never been more important than right now. We need to know our own limits and set boundaries that help us to stay sane through these times!
Our thoughts play a huge role in the way we feel and the way we act.
What I tell myself when bad things happen is important. When the clinic closed, think how differently I would have felt if I had told myself “coronavirus is going to infect me and I will likely die” to “what an exciting opportunity this is to live life differently for a short period of my entire life”, and in turn, how different my actions would be.
We are more similar than we are different.
We each are trying to get through this time and keep our loved ones close – that unites us more than our political or religious beliefs may separate us.
How are we different now?
Preparation is important…
otherwise we run out of toilet paper!
Some things are more important than others.
For example, relationships matter…a lot. We have seen how being isolated from one another makes us feel.
Fluff doesn’t matter much; we know more about what is important.
We got down to the basics, for some people that included family, for other people that included having time without work which meant figuring out what are necessities and what is considered fluff.
We are harder in some ways; softer in others.
I would guess we are “harder” in that it would take more to knock us down now; we know we are larger than many trials, and we recognize our own strength in the face of them. Yet, I think we are softer in how we view others’ needs, the suffering of our fellow men/women, and in how we make time to care for our own needs.
What we can control and what we can’t control may be clearer.
We know that we cannot control a pandemic, and we cannot control what our neighbor chooses to do. But, we have learned that we can control our behavior in response to events, and we can control how prepared we are.
Overall, I am so grateful for the lessons I’ve learned throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. It has been one of the most difficult years of everyone’s lives, with circumstances that we will hopefully never have to repeat again. As we aren’t through this yet, keep your chin up, seek help when you need to, and move toward the things that keep you going. We will get through this!
Special thanks to Dean Barley, Ph.D. (the Director of the BYU Comprehensive Clinic) for sharing some of his thoughts on this subject.
I was discussing with a friend what I should write for this post. He brought up an interesting idea. My friend discussed the common glass half full vs. glass half empty scenario. He said there could be a third group: the people who see half a glass of water. Between the optimists and the pessimists there are people who simply see things for what they are. While this analogy might not work perfectly, it reminded me of one of the most interesting concepts I’ve learned of in recent memory. (more…)
When you stop to think about it, you can probably identify physical manifestations of your emotions. It’s not uncommon to hear people describe the state of being excited as “light” or a “butterflies in my stomach” feeling. When we are sad, we may identify as feeling sluggish or tired. Grief is similar- when we experience profound loss, there are physical symptoms that accompany the intense, dysregulating emotion. Commonly described physical manifestations of grief are things like headaches, stomach pain, back pain, chest heaviness, weakness or tightness in muscles, and changes in breathing and sleep. (more…)
Recently, I’ve had a lot of people disclose to me that they wish they could be less [insert mental flogging device here]. The end of that sentence often looks something like “perfectionistic” or “depressed” or “reactive” or “anxious” or “opinionated” or “attention seeking”. Sometimes it’s the opposite, and people wish they were more [insert mental flogging device here]. The end of this sentence often looks something like “slimmer” or “fitter” or “a better mother” or “kind” or “creative”. As you can tell…we are a complex bunch, aren’t we? We each seem to wish we were different in so many ways. (more…)
The full memory on my computer has forced me to take a trip down memory lane and peruse through all of my various files to see which ones were worthy of keeping and which could be dumped. I stumbled upon many of my old assignments from graduate school. As I opened one file, I began to reflect on an idea I heard when I was in a particularly moving class in my master’s program. I have seen this theme play out over and over in my own life and in the lives of clients, friends, etc. The idea I’d like to share is the idea that we are, or can become, wounded healers.
Physical & Emotional Wounds
We’ve all fallen down as kids (or, let’s be honest here, as adults) and scraped up our knees. We’ve experienced small wounds: paper cuts, acne, blisters, etc. We’ve experienced larger wounds: wisdom teeth surgery, broken bones, c-sections, etc. It’s always incredible to me to watch the way our bodies heal after they are wounded; to see new skin replace the old; holes close up; our bodies return to normal (or at least semi-normal) function. To watch broken toes and broken legs help us run again. Our bodies are miraculous!
We all carry emotional wounds as well. Wounds that feel just as real and just as serious as broken bones. Broken hearts that feel so excruciating we would have sworn we were experiencing heart failure. Anxious minds that feel just as debilitating as any physical ailment. Grief that feels as heavy as trying to carry a car up the mountain on torn ACLs. The healing that comes with our emotional and mental wounds looks very different. We don’t see the fresh layers of skin or healing bones, but we know that something is changing. We feel more whole, quicker to smile, more like coming back to ourselves.
We All Haves Wounds; We Are All Healers
If there’s anything I’ve learned as a therapist, it is that all of us have emotional and mental wounds. Some that are deep and some that are more superficial. These wounds shape us and change us, forcing our emotional skins to regenerate and our mental bones to regrow and strengthen. I have also come to know that each of us has a deep-seated ability to be healers. Our woundedness does not take away from our capacity to be healing influences. In fact, at time I think that it is our woundedness that allows us to serve and love and aid others more fully. To be truly empathetic requires us to access our wounds. To sit with someone in pain beautifully forces us to sit with our own pain as well. As such, we become wounded healers. We use our wounds to push us forward into more empathy and compassion. We don’t need to be healed to be healing influences, we can do so even as we are still wounded and healing ourselves.
Woundedness as a Gift
I know it’s so cliché to say 2020 has been a really difficult year, but wow! It really has been such a difficult year! As many of you, I have felt more anxiety this past year than in any other time of my life. I have felt afraid and uncertain. This anxiety that I have experienced has felt like a “wound” for me. In talking with a friend, they asked me if I could view my increased anxiety as a gift. At first I scoffed at the idea. Dealing with heavy emotions was not a gift! It was painful and at times, felt too heavy to bear. However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that this increase in emotional difficulty really was a gift. When friends talked about the heaviness of anxiety, I had a little bit of a better taste as to just how painful this was. When clients spoke of the frustration and desire for anxiety to just go away, I could understand a bit more what this was like. My woundedness didn’t make me less of a good therapist, friend, or healer, it actually helped me connect to people in ways I never could have if I hadn’t experienced an increase in emotional pain myself. My empathy just skyrocketed after this experience and I believe I’m a better therapist, friend, and healing influence because of it.
Embracing the “And”
In what ways are you a “wounded healer?” How are you embracing both your wounds and your capacity to be a healer? What makes this difficult? My clients have been some of my greatest examples of wounded healers. It’s not always easy to get to a place where one aspect does not feel more valuable or important than the other, however, there is a unique power and beauty that comes from embracing them both!
It began because of the pandemic. Or is that just my excuse? Anyway, somehow, my kids convinced me that getting two bunnies as Pandemic Emotional Support animals was a good idea. The breeder didn’t know the sex of said bunnies, but somehow I felt confident about rolling the dice and believed strongly that we chose two female bunnies. (more…)
I will be getting married in just a few days! I feel like for so long it has seemed like it would never come and now it’s here! To say I am excited is an understatement. I am also very excited to stop stressing about all the little details of wedding planning. Although I have actually had a lot of fun planning and preparing, it will be nice to not have wedding details constantly running through the back of my mind.
About a week ago, I was feeling very overwhelmed. It seems like every day something new came up to plan or prep that I hadn’t thought of. I’ve planned large-scale events before, so I was surprised every time I realized there was something else we needed to consider. It was all quickly becoming too much. Juggling work/clients that needed my full attention, students and a class that required emotional and mental effort, relationships, moving, wedding planning, attending wedding events, etc. was really weighing on me. I was not having a very fun time anymore and that made me sad. I plan for this to be my only wedding and the stress was really getting to me.
I talked with my very level-headed and calm fiancé about this. We resolved to spend more time enjoying what we were doing and to stay present and engaged with whatever was taking our attention at the time. I set my intention to find more joy in the process.
The Perfect Bouquet
One of my unknown hobbies is floral design. I took a class in college and absolutely became obsessed with the unique colors, shapes, and textures florals offered. I decided to create my own bouquet for our bridal photos and was so excited to spend time working with high-quality flowers. I went to the flower wholesaler and spent about an hour in the cooler with all of the blooms. I stumbled across the perfect shade and variety of roses—garden roses, my very favorite. I’m running the risk of sounding dramatic, but I almost cried seeing them. My heart was so thrilled by the beautiful and unique flowers. I was so excited to go home and spend time assembling the perfect bouquet.
The bouquet turned out to be stressful as well. My floral design skills were rusty and I found myself taking to the internet to look up floral design tutorials. I accidentally dropped my first arrangement on the ground, snapping off the heads of several of the precious and very expensive “red tess” garden roses. I was not having a very good time with this endeavor. This exciting, creative, fun process suddenly felt exhausting and stressful, just like the rest of wedding planning.
I thought about it for a second and recognized that although it was okay and made sense that I was frustrated, my frustration was coming from my high expectations of my floral-arranging experience. I did not have to continue to feel defeated and sad. Instead, I could change my expectations to be “have a fun and enjoyable experience engaging in something I love.” I needed to drop the expectations that my florals would look like professional Instagram florist pages. I decided to try again, to just enjoy the process and the journey creating.
This time was much more successful and fun. I found myself returning to the feeling in the floral cooler at the wholesaler. I was excited and almost giddy. The bouquet turned out beautifully, although not professional level (I’m not a professional, so duh it didn’t look that way).
The next day when we went to take our bridals my future sister-in-law, who was taking our photos, had a catastrophe with her camera and it was rendered useless until it could be professionally examined. She was so disappointed and felt horribly. However, I did not bat an eye. I returned to my intention of being excited, happy, and enjoying the journey. I was in a beautiful landscape with people I loved, playing dress-up with my fiancé, and filled with so much joy. Although our bridals were taken on an iPhone, I am not disappointed! We had a blast and my expectations of “Instagram-worthy perfection” wasn’t helpful anyways. So, in my black winter boots (the snow was very deep), with a homemade, rustic-looking bouquet, we took photos on an iPhone and I couldn’t be happier.
Although it is okay for us to feel disappointment, stress, and discouragement, these feelings are sometimes rooted in our unrealistic expectations and perfectionism. Unfortunately, these two things can steal away our ability to see things as good and meaningful, although imperfect.
Challenge Perfectionistic Expectations
I don’t know if there’s a magical solution for moving away from this style of thinking, but I have found it very helpful for me to recognize when my expectations and perfectionistic tendencies are getting in the way of me being present and experiencing joy. I think the first step to moving past this is to spend more time recognizing these thinking patterns within ourselves. When we feel discouragement, anger, overwhelm, etc. it might be helpful for us to do a quick internal and compassionate inventory: Why am feeling this way? Could this problem be lessened if my expectations were adjusted? Are my expectations getting in the way of me enjoying what I have and staying present? How do I shoot for “good” rather than the ever-elusive “perfect.”
As I was able to understand my own thought processes and emotions, everything changed for me! It doesn’t mean I don’t still experience stress during this time of planning and prep, but the overwhelm and desire for things to be “just so” has decreased significantly. I can more readily challenge these unhelpful thoughts now that I am more aware of them. What unhelpful thoughts of perfection and unrealistic expectations are getting in the way of your joy and presence? Drop a comment below or on our Facebook page and let us know!