How to Turn Loneliness into Sweet Solitude

Courtesy of Ken Schwarz via Flickr

Toni Bernhard, J.D. was a law professor at University of California at Davis. After coming down with an illness that never went away, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, she was forced into retirement. A long practicing Buddhist, Toni used her knowledge and meditation practice to help her cope with her new life. She wrote about it in her award winning book How to Be Sick.

In this article published on her Turning Straw Into Gold blog on the Psychology Today website, Toni shares her experience with loneliness. A lot of us can relate to the pain of loneliness. Loneliness is the affliction of many who are challenged with all kinds of conditions, both medical and psychological, often both! In fact, I don’t know how anyone tells when the medical condition ends and the psychological one begins or vice versa! We will hold that thought for another article…

Right now I want to share with you what Toni wrote about her transition from the pain of loneliness to the companionable sweetness of solitude. In Toni’s words…

When my health deteriorated and I had to trade the busy life of a university professor for the isolation of my bedroom, the loneliness was palpable. At times, it was hard to distinguish between the illness and the loneliness.

One day, a friend I’d met online, sent me this quotation from the theologian, Paul Tillich:

“Language…has created the word ‘loneliness’ to express the pain of being alone. And it has created the word ‘solitude’ to express the glory of being alone.”


If being alone is a source of suffering for you, see if you can think of a few positives that come from solitude (even if it’s just having sole possession of the remote control!). Maybe, like one of the people I quoted above, you can get those “creative juices flowing” to help you make a list.


Cultivating self-compassion softens the loneliness and makes it bearable. Then I remind myself that the pain of loneliness, like all mental states, comes and goes. It’s painful now, but if I’m patient, it will pass and the sweetness of solitude will take its place.

To read the entire article click here.

On Memorial Day – Visit a Cemetery

Courtesy of Sofia Francesca Photography

It has become a tradition for my little family to put together a picnic and drive over to Forest Lawn Cemetery on Memorial Day. Many cemeteries are beautiful parks for both living and dead. They are in their glory in the spring, with the trees in full leaf and flowers blooming among the elaborate funerary sculpture and mausoleums. My family does not have a relative buried there but we still have our favorite places to visit.

First we stroll through the weathered head stones that mark the graves of soldiers and sailors from the Civil War and all wars and conflicts since. Volunteers have come through earlier to place flags at each grave. As we walk, we read the names and life dates on the grave markers and the messages written from the living to their dead. History lessons from text books become real people with mothers. We pick up fallen flags that have blown down and do our best to re-plant them. There is a new space dedicated to those fallen in Iraq and Afghanistan. There we see where fresh earth is turned and the stones glisten white.

After our walk we find a quiet place by a little lake, munch on our sandwiches, reflect on what we have seen and remember our own loved ones who have passed on. In this serene place where death mingles quietly with life, the geese parade by with their goslings, honking with irritation at the laggers. And we laugh.

Video: What is Anxiety? The Fight/Flight Response

A video from the Explore What’s Next YouTube Channel! Don’t let that awful face I’m making scare you. The video is really good. Trust me. Watch it, ‘Like’ it and share it with your friends!

3 Steps to Cure the “Yes, but…” Habit

There can be those rare, positive Yes-Buts like “Yes, I ate that whole piece of banana cream pie, but I was 600 calories under my budget for the week and it was delish!”

More often, the ‘Yes-But’ is a device of the devil. It keeps us mired in unhappiness. Imagine a car stuck in the mud (not a stretch if you live in the northeast, believe me). We spend precious energy spinning our tires, going nowhere but deeper in the muck.

The Yes-But is you. In the mud. Spinning.

Dr. David Burns would say the Yes-But is a type of cognitive distortion. Number 4 on the cognitive distortion hit list in fact: Disqualifying the positive.

The But effectively negates whatever came right after the Yes. It’s as if the Yes never existed. That is what is so devastating!

We use the Yes-But in two ways:

1. To keep ourselves down and off balance. This Yes-But is often a variation on the theme of “Yes I have nice eyes, but my nose is huge!” We basically put ourselves down, slap aside what is good and focus on what we think is wrong, leaving us feeling sad, angry, maybe even hopeless.

2. To keep others down and off balance. When we use the Yes-But in conversation with others we may be avoiding something, like maybe taking responsibility for our own actions.  In my work with couples I hear these kinds of Yes-Buts a lot. There are two major variations:

a. Yes, I owe you an apology. I’m sorry, but…

b. Yes, I accept your apology, but…

Easy to see where neither maneuver is any help in getting a couple unstuck.

Here are three steps to help you quit your Yes-But habit:


Why 3 Positive Thoughts + 1 Negative Thought = Misery

Courtesy of flash_nerd via Flickr

Why is it so difficult for us to focus on the positive when one negative thing can set our anxiety/depression wheel spinning for days?

There is a theory out there that the reason is rooted in evolution. Back 15,000 years or more, our ancestors had one job: to survive long enough to have sex and babies to keep the species alive.  In the primitive conditions of the Ice Age, the only way to assure a long enough life span was to be hyper vigilant for anything that could threaten life and limb. Those individuals who caught the negative threat quickest were the fittest who survived long enough to procreate. That anxiety trait of dwelling on the negative was then handed down to their kids and their kids’ kids, and eventually to lucky us.

Today we need to be aware that our primitive mind, unchecked, will skew to the negative, ’cause that’s how we’re wired. Our new job is to give our more evolved selves a chance to give the entire positive-as-well-as-negative reality fair and full appreciation.

24 Rainy Day Blues Busters

Courtesy of tjstaab via Flickr

There’s an app on my iPod that provides the weather forecast. A quick glance is just depressing. Monday-Rain, Tuesday-Rain, Wednesday-Rain…. The only thing that doesn’t keep me from feeling totally pathetic is the news from the Mississippi flood plain. How can I possibly complain when there are so many losing or in danger of losing everything? Relative to their heartache I have nothing to feel so bad about. Instead I  posted a cry for help on my Facebook page and several friends responded. What do they do on a cold, rainy day in May to chase the blues away? Here are some of my favorites:

  1. Take yourself or a friend to a silly movie! Get away from the TV and go to an actual theatre. Sharing the experience with other people in the audience is different from sitting alone no matter how big your screen is. And there’s movie house popcorn! I went to see Bridesmaids yesterday. Yes, parts of it was gross (it’s an Apatow movie after all) but I laughed a lot too, on a day I really needed it.
  2. Give yourself a mani-pedi or go out and get one. A home spa treatment while I watched re-runs of Jim and Pam’s wedding on The Office felt like heaven.
  3. Music. Live or on Pandora, the radio or CD! Play it loud, play it soft, sit still or dance like no one is watching you!
  4. A live broadway show. Wicked is in my town and I’m hoping to find reasonable tickets before the week is out.
  5. Go to the library. At my library you can find a pick up game of chess as well as the usual, books, CDs, DVDs, magazines computers…
  6. An art gallery.
  7. Find a good book to dive into. Do not get hung up on appearances when all you want is to lose yourself in a book. A good romance novel is better than nothing.
  8. Take the good book and go to a cafe you love.
  9. Dig up a favorite recipe and cook it up.
  10. Instead of being upset you can’t get into the garden, browse through gardening magazines, make an appointment with a landscaper, go to a favorite nursery and window shop.
  11. Same with golf if you’re a golfer.
  12. Glance at your closet and take out three things you don’t wear any more.
  13. Go shopping for just one thing that makes your heart sing.
  14. Take the stuff you took out of your closet to the Goodwill and make a donation.
  15. Take your bike for a tune up to get it ready for a sunny day.
  16. Take a yoga class or just put in a DVD and have a class of one.
  17. Look at one room in your house and adjust one little thing to make it more comfortable.
  18. Take advantage of the forced inactivity and take a guilt free daytime nap.
  19. Meditate.
  20. Indulge in a nice cuddle with a loved one.
  21. Indulge in anything chocolate! Hot chocolate is especially good on a cold, rainy day.
  22. Call up a friend and invite them to lunch somewhere new you’ve always wanted to try.
  23. Make a fire in the fireplace! I know it’s not winter any more but who cares? A gas or wood fire can be just the thing to brighten a dull grey, wet day.
  24. Were something bight and fun! Even if it’s cold you can still put on those bright red pumps and kick it!

What do you do to keep the rainy day blues away?

5 Things About Blogging that Makes Me Happy :-)

Yesterday my friend and fellow blogger, Carolyn Thomas of Heart Sisters was kind enough to send me this note:

Hello Dr. A – just a head’s up in case you haven’t found it yet: KevinMD picked up my piece called “Five Rules For Living Well With a Chronic Illness”, which I re-ran from your original blog post on May 5th, with links and credit – of course!

It made me think of some of the cool things I love about blogging.

1) Sharing my knowledge and experience. What can I say, I love helping people and this blog allows me do that beyond the bricks and mortar of my office. When people let me know that something they found here made even a difference to them I feel touched, honored and, yes, happy!

2) Providing a forum for like minded people. That is the Holy Grail of blogging, to provide a community. The statistics show that people from around the world visit this blog daily so I do not doubt there is a community out there (Hi, guys!).  I admit I would love to hear from people more, but I figure you all may be shy and that’s OK.

Bloggers love it when their community is evident by the conversation that takes place among commenters. This has happened a few times here and on PsychCentral, where I am a regular contributor. When it does you can bet I am doing my happy Snoopy dance!

3) When the places and people reached grown beyond the EWN blog. Writing articles for a blog is sometimes like sending messages in a bottle throwing them out to sea. It’s so much fun to see them pop up here and there in the most unexpected moments in yet to be discovered places! I’ve had the pleasure of having articles long forgotten picked up by the big and small on the Internet.


What Weighs You Down?

Courtesy of Fouro via Flickr

Here’s something important I learned on my weight loss journey: what keeps my extra weight packed on has less to do with food and more to do with the people, places and things that weigh me down.

What weighs me down? At the top of my list are unreasonable expectations of myself tied to what I imagined my father’s expectations were.

Next came self-imposed stress, trouble setting limits, saying no, guilt over never being able to do enough. You know… the usual.

Once the things that weigh me down were recognized I could begin to address them.

Awareness is a good start but Action is the golden ticket.

First I wanted to do something once and for all about the weight I was carrying regarding my father’s expectations. This is going to sound corny, but what the heck: I wrote him a letter. In it I declared my independence and hoped that he could accept me, be proud of me, even better, respect me, as a wholly different person from himself. Doing this was painful, I don’t deny it, in fact I avoided it for weeks.

Finally, the discomfort of avoidance became greater than the anxiety over writing the letter. To make it a bit easier on myself I started by using a dictation app on my iPod (Dragon). That helped because some of the translations from voice to text were hilarious!

Once I started “talking to” my Dad, the flood gates opened. I had to stop and cry here and there as I said out loud what had been swimming in my head for years. I needed to be who I was. If that disappointed him I couldn’t own it any more. It was for him to deal with, not me.

I imagined my father’s serious face as he listened to me. I heard him responding in his gravelly voice, surprised by his compassion and understanding. (Did you know they have Internet in heaven and he subscribes to my blog?!) He didn’t agree with all I was doing but could sincerely say he respected it. What a relief!


5 Articles for Mothers’ Day

The Explore What’s Next blog is over four years old!  A lot of Mothers’ Days have come and gone. Here is a collection of the Mothers’ Day posts I’ve written, some from the perspective of an adult child whose mother has passed away.

May you have a lovely day!  Whether you gave birth to your children, adopted or married into them, just became a mom an hour ago or have great-grandchildren, are a mommy to animals instead of humans– even if you are a single dad who operates ‘in loco momitis’, celebrate in your heart the great adventure of motherhood.

What I Didn’t Know ABout Mothers’ Day

A Bittersweet Mothers’ Day

A Happy Mothers’ Day to All

Postcard to My Mom: Wish You Were Here

Whatever happens, please have a Happy Mothers’ Day!

5 Steps to Blow Up Your Old Expectations and Move Forward!

A client shared his frustration over not achieving more in his life, all those things he thought he would have done by now. I suggested that his struggle with low self-esteem would be helped if he stopped comparing himself to others. This man, like many I know, deals heroically every day with the special needs challenges in his family. He and his wife step up in a non-traditional, focused, determined manner that is hard for outsiders to imagine. He is the frog in the pot, so it is nearly impossible for him to see how exceptional he is.

His reaction to me was: “Are you asking me to lower my expectations?”

No, I said, I’m asking you to blow them up, destroy them, obliterate them to dust. I hate that term: ‘lower expectations’, (can you tell?) as if by thinking differently we are less ourselves instead of more. Here are some tips:

1. Start with a clean slate. Be honest with yourself. Are the expectations you are holding onto really your own? Or are they some one else’s? If they are someone else’s ditch them.

2. Brain storm. Write a stream of consciousness, without censor, without judgement. You can cull out the absurd (I expect to be America’s Next Top Model!) later.

3. Embrace where you are in life, because where ever you are, even if it’s really hard, it is Good.

4. Create goals, expectations, standards, whatever you want to call them, that work with you instead of against you. I may not ever be America’s Next Top Model, but I can lose ten pounds.

5. Keep the expectations fluid. Your needs in life will change for good and all. Keep light on your feet.

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