Choosing Kindness

“This morning at six when I awoke, loneliness was sitting on my chest like a dental x-ray apron, even though I was covered in hairy dog love. I prayed, ‘Help. I am sad and lonely, and already it looks from here like today is going to be too long.’ So I did a kindness to myself, as I would have if a troubled friend had confided her loneliness to me: I heated up the milk for my coffee and took the dogs for a short hike in the hills.”

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I love this scene from Anne Lamott’s Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers. She wakes up one morning, as we all do sometimes, anxious and lonely. She fears what the next few hours will hold. She cannot deny the heaviness of her loneliness nor the restless and deep longing that comes with it. And then she wrestles with what to do about it.

Anne chooses to engage with what she refers to as “radical self-care.” She imagines she is caring gently for a friend. She offers herself something cozy and comforting to drink. She seeks goodness for herself: beauty and adventure and play. Nothing she chooses is extravagant or expensive or complicated, but there is a simple kind of goodness and nurture.

And before any of these simple things are possible, she does something very important. She allows herself to feel the pain her heart holds. She allows herself to name how heavy and scary the loneliness feels and she engages her heart with such precious words. “Help. I am sad and lonely, and already it looks from here like today is going to be too long.”

Most of our unkindness comes from refusing to engage this place in our own hearts. We shove the feelings away and avoid letting them speak because we are deeply afraid of what comes next. Instead of kindness and gentleness, we choose to be uncaring and even cruel. We numb and silence our needs. We try to satiate our appetite with mindless eating, Instagram, Netflix. We get busy. And when we do engage the pain, we speak harshly to our tenderly aching hearts. We say:

“You shouldn’t be lonely. You’re so needy.”
Shame.

“No wonder you don’t have any friends. You’re such a loser.”
Self-contempt.

“Nobody will think to call you today. Everyone has forgotten about you.”
Despair.

Letting your heart speak, even if only for a moment, is the kindest space you can offer. And once you have listened, you can decide from a place of kindness what to offer yourself. Do you need a walk? Time with a friend? A good meal? Little by little you will teach your heart that it is safe in your gentle care.

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SADness: Seven tips for surviving Seasonal Affective Disorder

 

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This has been a lovely fall in Atlanta, hasn’t it?  For now though, the temperature has dropped, and the wind seems to have blown bare the most beautiful trees in my neighborhood.  Soon it will be cold and dark and the reds and golds of autumn will be replaced by winter’s grays and browns.

This transition to winter can be especially difficult for some, particularly those suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder.  The loss of daylight hours wreaks havoc on our circadian rhythms and the levels of certain chemicals in our bodies like serotonin and melatonin.  This change can trigger symptoms of depression, like loss of interest in people or activities, exhaustion, changes in appetite, irritability, hypersensitivity, and hopelessness.

This can be a very frightening change, and yet there are steps you can take to fight back and regain your ability to experience joy and pleasure. Here are 7 tips for how to survive SAD.

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1.  Let the light in.  The loss of exposure to light is no joke.  We need sunlight for so many reasons.  Open your blinds.  Wake up earlier and sit by a bright window while you drink your morning coffee.  Invest in a sunlamp which can help to elevate mood if you’re not able to get enough daylight to meet your needs.

2.  Exercise.  This can be so hard to do when it’s cold and miserable out, but it’s vitally important. Even though it’s cold, bundle up and go on a quick brisk walk.  You will not only feel sunlight on your face, but you will also feel decreased stress and increased motivation and self-confidence.  Studies consistently show that exercise is one of the most effective treatments for depression.

3.  See a therapist.  The winter months are not only depressing, they are also stressful.  The holidays can be fun and fulfilling, but also incredibly draining.  Extensive time with family can trigger unresolved pain and hurt.  For those who have lost family members, the holidays are a trigger for grief.  Combine either of these issues with SAD, and the season can feel hopeless.  Take these feelings as an opportunity to care for yourself by investing in time for personal healing and growth.

4.  Care for yourself medically.  A therapist can also help you determine the severity of your symptoms and whether you may need to take anti-depressants.  Additionally, winter is the season of sickness!  Don’t ignore your physical needs.  If you are feeling under the weather, care for yourself by resting, nourishing yourself well, and seeking medical attention if necessary.  You may need to take time off of school or work in order to recover.

5.  Invest in relationships.  Often, winter can be a time of isolation, especially if you are experiencing symptoms of depression that keep you lonely and scared to reach out to friends.  You may hear depression telling you that you are not fun to be around and you should keep to yourself. This is not true!  The people in your life care about you and probably also feel a bit isolated during the winter.  You may not feel up to much, but try to have a friend over for a warm beverage, like tea or apple cider. There is something about holding a warm drink in your hands when it’s cold outside that makes for good conversation.  Surround yourself with supportive friends even thought it feels scary or tiring.  It will remind you that you are loved.

6.  Pursue small pleasures.  You may not be going to the beach or skiing this winter, but there are lots of small ways that you can experience new and exciting things.  Do you like to cook?  Try something you’ve never made before, like baking bread.  Learn a new hobby like guitar or yoga. Get your creative juices flowing by reading, writing, or painting.  What are some things you’ve always wanted to try?  Winter is the perfect time to pick up something new and practice gratitude for small, enjoyable things.

7.  Hold on to hope.  Always remember that winter eventually ends. Winter seems endless while we are in its midst, but it always turns into spring.  There is always hope!  Be gentle with yourself as you wait for the warmth and beauty that is just around the corner.

To learn more about Adair Swayze, M.A., LAPC, LAMFT and her services, go here.

Harry Potter and Depression

 

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Disclaimer: This post was written entirely before the tragic news of Robin Williams’ suicide. I hope his death can serve as a reminder for those struggling with Bipolar Disorder or Major Depressive Disorder that their illness is very serious and potentially life-threatening especially if left untreated.


 

A client I spoke with only last week has been struggling with depression off and on for several years. She takes medication daily and attends weekly counseling. The depression waxes and wanes, and sometimes she barely notices it’s there. And yet sometimes it hits her quite suddenly, with all the force of a thunderstorm and the quietness of a whisper.

I mention this client because I think she speaks very profoundly about the terror of living with depression. No matter what she does, it is still there lurking in the shadows. She says it is like a cloud she can’t seem to find her way out of. She is doing everything right seemingly: getting exercise, seeing friends, going to counseling, and yet, the depression remains.

J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series, famously struggled with depression in the early days of writing the series. In fact, it was her struggle with depression that inspired Rowling to create Dementors, the terrifying creatures that feed on human feeling. Of depression and Dementors, she says: “It’s so difficult to describe [depression] to someone who’s never been there, because it’s not sadness. I know sadness. Sadness is to cry and to feel. But it’s that cold absence of feeling—that really hollowed-out feeling. That’s what Dementors are.”

In the books, Rowling described the Dementors like this:

“Dementors are among the foulest creatures that walk this earth. They infest the darkest, filthiest places, they glory in decay and despair, they drain peace, hope, and happiness out of the air around them. Even Muggles feel their presence, though they can’t see them. Get too near a Dementor and every good feeling, every happy memory will be sucked out of you. If it can, the Dementor will feed on you long enough to reduce you to something like itself — soul-less and evil. You’ll be left with nothing but the worst experiences of your life.”

If this sounds familiar to any of you, please consider letting someone in on your struggle.  Try therapy.  Tell a trusted friend or family member about your thoughts. Depression loves to cause isolation and shame, ensnaring its victim in a fog. From the depths of this fog, it can seem like no one will understand or care. The bravest and best thing you can do to fight depression is to risk the vulnerability of asking for help.


Welcome!

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Welcome to my blog!  My desire is for this to be a little corner of the internet where counseling, creativity, and self-exploration are celebrated and encouraged.  The image at the top of my website is a photograph of a love letter written by my great grandfather in 1912 to his future wife. I include it because I believe that when we undertake the task of self-exploration in counseling, what we are really doing is learning to author our own stories in a way that draws on our innate sense of creativity. Making the decision to begin therapy is essentially putting pen to paper maybe for the first time to express who you are and what you value. And it is a very brave step.

Please enjoy exploring the other pages of my website where you can read more about me as well as my counseling practice.