“Mom, Dad, I’m scared…” 6 Things We Can Do When Our Children Are Bullied.

Ever since the news broke that a local child, Jamey Rodemeyer committed suicide, I have been reading and viewing videos about what happened. It is all a horrible, tragic mess and frankly overwhelming. The stories related to Jamey’s death are endless. Everyone has question upon question about the bullying and harassment he endured, about what the school was doing about it, the difference between cyber-bullying and any other kind, how does this reflect on our culture, as a nation and more.

All I want do with this little article is provide a bit of guidance for parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents, teachers, anyone who has a kid they are responsible for in any way.

If you suspect your child may be dealing with bullies, here are a few action tips you can take:

1) One of the most important things we can do as parents is listen seriously to our children. It is awful to be dismissed or made to feel like we are just “imagining things” when the cruelty is all too terrifying.

2) Give each of your children one on one time. This can be hard when we have more than one kid, but you can figure out a way to do it. Find a baby sitter, swap time with grandparents, trusted friends or your spouse.

3) Make that time without agenda. Just “hanging out” in a way that invites conversation provides an environment to share.

4) Trust your gut. If you suspect something is going on, gently ask your kid about it.

5) Do not be tempted to jump in with the solution. Ask your child what ideas they have to stop the bullying; what would they like you to do. Share your thoughts. Suggest a consultation with another adult, the school counselor, for instance. You want your child to be on board, however, if he or she refuses to talk to any authorities at school, and the bullying is chronic, go ahead and do it yourself. Just be sure to explain that you doing so, against their wishes, not to be disrespectful but because it is in your job description to protect them any way you can.

6) Empower your child without expecting him or her to “tough it out”. As Cruel’s Not Cool says:

“We want to teach our kids to be assertive, sure, but some social battles have gotten too big for kids to deal with on their own. If you have a hunch something’s going on between your kid and a peer please DIG DEEPER and be there to help get to the bottom of it.”

Related articles:

Jamey Rodemeyer Suicide: What Parents Should Tell A Suicidal Teen

 Stop Cyberbullying: What Is A Parent’s Role?

Parenting Quiz: Is My Child A Bully?

I Think My Child is a Bully: What Should I Do?

Self-Medicating With Coffee? Could Be.

Coffee drinking linked to less depression in women.

3 Steps to Strengthen Your Self-Esteem

A good self-help book is worth its weight in therapy fees. I recommend many books for my patients to read between session hours but none as often as this one. Today I am quoting directly out of Feeling Good, The New Mood Therapy, by Dr. David Burns. While reviewing a chapter I wanted to copy for a woman who had trouble seeing the value in her work as a stay at home mother, I found this reminder:

…There is no such thing as a worthless human being.

“Then how can I develop a sense of self-esteem?” you may ask.

The answer is – you don’t have to! You don’t have to do anything especially worthy to create or deserve self-esteem; all you have to do is turn off that critical, haranguing, inner voice. Why? Because that critical inner voice is wrong! Your internal self-abuse springs from illogical distorted thinking. Your sense of worthlessness is not based in truth, it is just the abscess which lies at the core of depressive illness.

So remember three crucial steps when you are upset:

1. Zero in on those automatic thoughts and write them down. Don’t let them buzz around in your head, snare them on paper!

2. Read over the list of ten cognitive distortions. Learn precisely how you are twisting things and blowing them out of proportion.

3. Substitute a more objective thought that puts the lie to the one which made you look down on yourself. As you do this, you’ll begin to feel better. You’ll be boosting your self-esteem, and your sense of worthlessness (and, of course, your depression) will disappear.

The ABCs of SAD – Seasonal Affective Disorder

Courtesy Sofia Francesca Photography

Around this time of year I begin to hear from people who have trouble with what we call Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

“I always have trouble this time of year. It’s the season. I can’t take it.”

What distinguishes SAD from regular run-of-the-mill depression is the time of onset, between September and October, when the days become significantly shorter in certain latitudes and the severity of symptoms. The further away from the equator you live, the less sun there is in the winter. Behavioral scientists believe there is a change in brain chemistry in people susceptible to SAD. Something about how serotonin is processed messes up sleep cycles and mood.

Symptoms are:

~ Feeling sad, grumpy, moody, or anxious.
~ Losing interest in your usual activities.
~ Eating more and craving carbohydrates, such as bread and pasta.
~ Gaining weight.
~ Sleeping more and feel drowsy during the daytime.

People with SAD report feeling relief from symptoms around April or May, as the days’ sunlight increases.

Some of us just have the blahs around this time of year, not really bad SAD but still not good. Dr. Goldstein, who writes the Mildfulness and Psychotherapy blog suggests 5 Keys to Preparing for Fall and Winter Blues.

1. Mindfulness training 

2. Exercise

3. Light therapy

4. Gratitude list

5. Connecting with friends and family

How is more serious SAD treated?  Best practices for the treatment of SAD includes:

~ Bright light treatment. For this treatment, you sit in front of a “light box” for half an hour or longer, usually in the morning. Light therapy works well for most people with SAD, and it is easy to use. You may start to feel better within a week or so after you start light therapy. But you need to stick with it and use it every day until the season changes. If you don’t, your depression could come back.
~ Dawn simulation. For this treatment, a dim light goes on in the morning while you sleep, and it gets brighter over time, like a sunrise.
~ Antidepressants. These medicines can improve the balance of brain chemicals that affect mood. Consult with a board certified psychiatrist.
~ Counseling. Some types of counseling, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, can help you learn more about SAD and how to manage your symptoms.

To learn more about SAD read:

WebMD on SAD

About the Winter Blues

Research Updates: Seasonal Affective Disorder Treatments

“The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.” Maya Angelou

Chronic Illness Before the Diagnosis: Your Not Crazy. Trust Yourself.

Courtesy Sofia Francesca Photography©

I read somewhere that properly diagnosing chronic illness can take from two to three years. Many of you wait even longer.

In the meantime, while the doctors scratch their heads, we’re expected to be happy we’re alive. And that’s if they don’t write us off with “It’s psychological.”

It took a year and three doctors before I was diagnosed with scleroderma. Just remembering what I went through during that year-from-hell gets my blood boiling and I was one of the lucky ones.

If you are experiencing symptoms but don’t have a diagnosis yet, here are some tips that I hope will help you get through this trying time a little easier.

Trust yourself. You are not crazy. Physicians have referred many people to me before they had a diagnosis, even doctors who don’t know what else to do for their patients. ALL of them eventually received a medical diagnosis. That’s right. ALL OF THEM.

Maybe I see a skewed sample of the general population but I don’t think so. Medicine is slowly catching up to the experience of hundreds of thousands of people reporting symptoms for which there is no hard, “objective” test. They should be believed. Even the Veterans’ Administration has come to recognize that when a combat veteran says he is suffering from PTSD, he is not faking. We do not want to be sick and it just pours salt in the wound when anyone suggests we are making this stuff up.

Learn who you can confide in and who it’s best not to. Your loved ones may be among those who have doubts, especially if you don’t look sick. They may not understand that there is a huge amount the science side of medicine needs time to deal with or just doesn’t know.

Many chronic illnesses develop slowly and the symptoms overlap. There are few ‘hard, objective’ diagnostic tests that rule-out or rule-in a particular disease. Your family and friends may be frustrated and confused. Before your struggle, they thought doctors knew everything and, like Gregory House, could have you diagnosed and treated within the time it takes to microwave the popcorn. When given a choice of trusting the doctor or trusting you, you might lose out.

For those who are open to it, you can try educating them to this process. To those who aren’t, avoid them like kryptonite. They will suck away your precious energy.

But I’m getting side-tracked. My point is, that even when those around you are questioning the reality of your symptoms, trust yourself first.

If anyone, friend, foe or doctor, tells you any variation of “It’s all in your head,” please, resist the urge to spit in their eye. On the other hand, I’m telling you, getting angry and defensive on your behalf is better than doubting yourself and becoming depressed. Just regulate your anger so that you don’t alienate the very people you need. Do that by being direct, controlled and civil when you say, “That makes me angry.” Then let it go.

When your doctor tells you to go to a psychotherapist, don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Some doctors will refer you to a psychologist because they truly believe it would benefit you to talk to a professional who can help you cope with the emotional side of things as they try to figure out what is going on medically. That is great. Take the referral and try it out. A good therapist will totally get what you are going through, the fear and anger, on top of more fear and anger. A good therapist will give you a safe place to sort it all out and practical guidance as to what to do with it all.

On the other hand, many doctors will tell you to see a shrink because they don’t know what else to do with you. It could be your anxiety, depression and anger makes them uncomfortable. Sad but true. Don’t let that devalue the benefit of a good therapist. Take the referral or find your own. You may discover it is actually a relief to talk to a good therapist and there could be other benefits.

Deb wrote to me about her experience after reading my article, Five Rules for Living With Chronic Illness. Before she was diagnosed with neurocardiogenic syncope she was

“in and out of the emergency room for two years and saw scores of “ologists” – cardiologists, neurologists, endocrinologists, internal medicine, you name it. But because I never completely lost consciousness (I could always hear what was going on) the common theory was that my condition was psychosomatic. So I saw a psychologist. He saw one of my spells during one of our sessions and told me “it definitely is NOT psychosomatic, it’s physical.””

It took two more frustrating years before Deb was accurately diagnosed but at least she had validation that her symptoms were real.

Hint to doctors: Listen to Deb, who writes, 

What doctors need to realize is that we, as patients, don’t expect them to know everything.  We do expect them to listen and treat us like intelligent, rational people.  Maybe some of us are square and don’t fit into the round holes most doctors see everyday; but that doesn’t mean our symptoms aren’t real.”

Finally, as hard as it is, nurture yourself. As a chronic illness patient you will be telling your story to a million people, a million times. You will visit a gaggle of doctors, nurses, lab technicians, receptionists, offices and hospitals. You will fill out reams of forms, give up quarts of blood and pee, be poked and prodded, dress and undress a thousand times. It is exhausting. Stop long enough to replenish yourself body and soul. If you pray, pray. If you meditate, meditate. Laugh! Give yourself a pity party for twenty minutes (no longer),complete with chocolate! If you have just one person, place or thing that eases you back to your peaceful place, be grateful and spend time with them.

Above all, listen to your gut.

On the 10th Anniversary of 9/11: Turn Off the TV

This morning I did what I always try to do, start the day as gracefully as possible. I go through my morning routine with plenty of time to do a little yoga, have a healthy breakfast, maybe scan the headlines, pack my lunch and head for the office. Usually I have Morning Edition, the NPR news program, on in the background. Today I had to turn it off.

With the 10th anniversary of the attacks of 9/11/01 it is very hard to get away from the related stories in the media. It would appear like every news outlet in the country is competing with each other to find a fresh angle. This can be an exhausting, troubling, even traumatizing time of year. With the 10th anniversary, it’s as if the anxiety and stress of ten full years is being funneled down to this one date.

Do not hesitate to take care of yourself if it becomes too much. Some of us are born more sensitive to this kind of thing than others. There is nothing to apologize for. Some of us just have thin skins, like some of us have brown hair. If you do or live with someone who does, maybe turn off the radio or television. Give the newspapers and websites the day, or week, off. Read a novel, watch a movie, go for a walk, play with your dog. If you must watch TV mute the commercials and news breaks if you’ve had enough, because even if you’re watching something as innocuous as a re-run of Two and a Half Men, every other moment away from the program seems to be about 9/11 in some shape or form.

Pace your news exposure, use media portion control and be well. Choose your own more personal way to acknowledge the day. Does it make you a bad citizen if you need to step away from the tragic stories or the forced warnings that we must stay ever vigilant for the next 9/11? No, it makes you an emotionally responsible human being.

Chronic Illness: If Therapy Helps, Does That Make It Psychosomatic?


Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

As a newly minted PhD I had the privilege of working on a three year National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant at Mt Sinai Medical Center that studied the effect of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) on post-stroke depression. Our results supported our hypothesis, that CBT helped alleviate depression in people who were recovering from stroke. As a result the people who received CBT (as opposed to anti-depressant medication or a placebo) did better in their cognitive (perception, memory, language) and physical rehabilitation treatments. Therapy helped. 

Did that mean the stroke was psychosomatic? Of course not! No one would question that the stroke was a real physical/medical event.

Why do people think that studies in support of the notion that anyone with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) does better if they receive CBT also support the idea that it must be psychosomatic?

Controversy continues to swirl around CFS and it is so frustrating for anyone suffering from it, studying it or treating it. A report by National Public Radio (NPR) this morning is a good example. Here is Cracking the Conundrum of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome in its entirety with my comments in bold.

Nearly three decades have passed since the debate began about a series of symptoms that have come to be known as chronic fatigue syndrome. It’s cause is still unknown, but over the years, researchers have identified various brain, immune system and energy metabolism irregularities involved. Some patients describe the syndrome as feeling like an “unrelenting, unremitting flu.”

Doctors say some treatments can help.

This is good news, right?

Arthur Barsky, a psychiatrist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and a professor at Harvard Medical School, says patients need to change how they experience symptoms — typically pain, insomnia and anxiety. When patients adopt a more positive attitude, Barsky points out, it often translates into greater confidence and more energy.

OMG, this is said in such a simplistic manner! I admit I haven’t read the study so I don’t know if it’s the study or the reporting that is to blame. Did the reporter not read what they wrote in the paragraph above? “an unrelenting, unremitting flu” sounds like a lot more than “pain, insomnia and anxiety.” Plus I object to the notion that “a more positive attitude” is what is needed. The best thing I can say is maybe Dr. Barsky is being quoted out of context.

A study published this year in The Lancet found that a form of talk therapy, as well as exercise, offered relief for some patients. Researchers from the United Kingdom looked at cognitive behavior therapy, or CBT.

In the study, over 600 patients with chronic fatigue syndrome were assigned to different treatments. All of them received medical care for symptoms like pain, insomnia or anxiety.

These are CFS patients? And yet nothing is said about energy levels.

One group got counseled about how to pace activities. Another took part in an exercise program. And a third received the cognitive behavioral talk therapy. The therapy and the exercise group improved the most, reporting less fatigue, insomnia and anxiety.


Exploring What’s Next for Me

Annie and me


I just posted this on my horsey blog, “My Horse Is My Therapist”. I thought you might enjoy it.

Early to the Barn, Early to Ride, Makes a Girl Healthy, Wealthy and Wise

The Agony & the Ecstasy of Launching My College Freshman into His New Life

“The days are long and the years are short.” ~Gretchen Rubin

We don’t want our kids to know that our hearts are breaking. It’s not about us, should not be about us. It’s about them stepping out of the chrysalus and spreading their well-earned wings.

I can’t even write about leaving my kid at college yet. It’s just too raw. I am so proud, so happy for him and grieving all at once. A wonderfully brilliant thing that hurts so much.

Lisa Earle MacLeod did write about the experience, and very well. She says,

“One minute, you’re living with one of the most exciting interesting people you’ve ever met. The next minute, you’re watching them pack up their stuff to leave. It’s awful. It’s also totally worth it.”

Yup, that says it all. I have confidence the pain will ease. We will adapt to the new reality. In the mean time, thank God for cell phones! The day after we dropped him off, I felt like Odysseus tied to the mast of his ship, resisting the urge to call my son. I would not be one of those parents who can’t let go! Then I got this text: “Hey! Just wanted to say I love you guys and I’m doing well!”

If you can relate to any of this, if you know someone who can, I invite you to share this link and your experience and feelings in the Comments!

Read Lisa’s entire article, “The Terrible Thing That Happened When I Wasn’t Looking.” 

Thanks to Amy Jo Lauber of Lauber Financial Planning for sending me the link.

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