What Does Maria Shiver’s Commencement Speech Have to Do With Therapy?

There was such a fuss about Maria Shriver’s commencement speech to the graduates of the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School of Communication, I finally took the time to watch it. And damn it, it was good.

What made it good was what makes most communication good. It was genuine. She spoke with ease and humor, some of it aimed at herself which is always charming when the woman is gorgeous and powerful. And she spoke from a place of passion that made you think that she really believes what she is saying, she really wanted those young people to listen.

What she wanted the kids to hear is not original to her. That doesn’t make the lesson any less valuable to all generations, not just the Annenberg graduates. She pointed out that in this crazy world we live in we could use time to stop, to set aside for ourselves, weary from the chaos of 24/7 connectivity, to pause. She said:

You know, I didn’t invent this stop-everything-and-pause idea.

Jesus fasted for forty days and nights in the desert. Henry David Thoreau went to Walden Pond. Ann Morrow Lindberg went to the sea. Buddha, Gandhi, Mother Teresa — the greatest and wisest have often stopped and withdrawn from active lives to journey within themselves. The wisdom they garnered there and shared with us has impacted the world.

But, hey, don’t worry! I’m not asking you for 40 days and nights! I’m only asking you to stop every so often and turn off your mobile device, put down the Angry Birds and the Words with Friends and take a moment. Stop to look up and look around. Pause and check in with yourself — and spend a moment there.

It wasn’t until after I heard the entire speech that I thought, “She could be describing therapy.”

Good psychotherapy gives you a pause away from the world; a little space and time away from the tsunami of demands coming from all directions from all kinds of people at all hours of the day and night. During the pause of the psychotherapeutic hour, in the hands of a good therapist, we have a chance to step back, even from our own mind and those impossible expectations we place on ourselves. In that pause we give ourselves a precious gift. We learn to nurture ourselves. We learn to heal the hurt places. We re-discover the strength that had abandoned us long ago. We learn to love ourselves again. To love again. That is good therapy.

Here is Maria Shriver’s speech in its entirety:

I, not events, have the power to make me happy or unhappy today.

“Each morning when I open my eyes I say to myself: I, not events, have the power to make me happy today. I can choose which it shall be. Yesterday is dead, tomorrow hasn’t arrived yet. I have just one day, today, and I’m going to be happy in it.”

~Groucho Marx via Andrew Johnson

Sometimes things feel so bad we don’t always appreciate that we have a choice but we do if we give ourselves a chance. Step back, breathe and embrace yourself with compassion as you would a friend.

The True Meaning of Memorial Day

Today many of us will gather with family and friends, some will go shopping to take advantage of sales and most of us are grateful for an extra day off on a lovely spring weekend. But Memorial Day was not meant to be the kickoff of the summer season. 

While we enjoy ourselves let’s remember to teach our children why Memorial Day was created in the first place.

“Let no vandalism of avarice or neglect, no ravages of time, testify to the present or to the coming generations, that we have forgotten, as a people, the cost of a free and undivided Republic.”

       ~ General John A. Logan , as he issued the first proclamation creating Memorial Day.

Depressed? Pick one thing and then do it!

Coming out of depression is not a smooth road. People will ask “how are you?”, and I mean people who really care, well-informed, loving people. You reply honestly and say it’s been rough. “But I thought you were doing better!” they say in dismay. They don’t mean to be critical but you are left feeling as if you let them down.

At least that’s how it can feel to a depressed person.

The road out of depression is rocky, pitched high and steep, then deep and low. And that’s when you are doing everything right! I draw a picture for my patients. Literally. I have a white board by my chair in my office for the purpose of drawing pictures. This drawing looks like the New York Stock Exchange, a jagged line trending up but full of spikes and valleys.

A few weeks ago I felt like I was doing pretty well, managing work, home, family, including the animals, when I was hit with a very nasty viral infection in my left eye. It hurt like hell. We’ve established that I am no martyr, yes? When the pain was at it’s peak, I had a dream that I was talking to a dear friend from the barn where I keep my mare. My friend is beautiful with two lovely blue eyes, only in my dream she had a third eye with a pencil sticking out of it! Already self-conscience over my puffy face, now I looked like the clone of Charles Laughton as Quasimodo, in The Hunchback of Notre Dame!

This was too much. Once on that slippery slope it was an easy fall into one of those valleys.

How did I get out of it? Very, very slowly.

This therapist (Hi there!) tries to practice what she counsels. One of the best things to do when energy is low and spirits lower is choose one thing, just one thing that is do-able, that if you do it you will look back at the end of the day and say with satisfaction, “I did that!”

I’m still feeling a bit wobbly but here I am writing again which is at once a joy and relief so deep it chokes me up with tears of gratitude. I am going to hold that close to my heart all day long. Yesterday I went to see my mare, Annie, and even though I don’t feel well enough to ride these days, I gave her such a rub down she was purring like Fritz the barn cat. The fresh memory of spending that hour with her gave me something real to grab on to all day long.

It’s like what the Richard Dreyfuss character, a messed up therapist who needed to learn how to relax, said in “What About Bob?”:

Baby steps. Baby steps.

And now for something completely different:

“That which does not kill us…”

If I see one more inspirational quote that tells me adversity is good for me or that all I have to do is pick myself up, dust myself off, and start all over again, I believe I will scream so loudly they will hear me in Kathmandu!

“That which does not kill us

makes us stronger.”

The stand-up comedian responds, “Yes, but it almost KILLS US!

There are so many ways life almost kills us. The responsibility of caring for elderly parents, a disabled child, a spouse. The burden of being a single parent. Discovering that the person you thought you could trust with your most precious heart turning out to be unworthy. Losing a loved one to illness or death, slowly or suddenly. Being worn down looking for a job or being in a job you hate. Fighting for our own lives when sickness strikes and doesn’t politely go away like it’s supposed to. All of the above happening all at once! Trauma, emotional dark pits, cascading series of unfortunate events. They happen. Life happens.

How strong are you feeling right now? Not terribly? Me neither.

Some days we just have to rage. Cry, whine, moan, pout, eat ice cream right out of the carton or whipped cream straight from the can.

Lowering expectations sucks but that is exactly what has saved me from becoming a depressed bitch of the first order. While dealing with my chronic illness, it’s been a struggle to give myself permission to take a break from Facebook and Twitter, to let the writing go fallow for a few weeks, to not exercise or count calories every single day, let my husband take over the cooking, not answer every email or voice mail the minute it hits the in-box, to not read the book club selection (Columbine, for God’s sake! A great book, very well written, but jeez!). The hardest thing is to take a break from judging myself.

When I manage to remember to practice a little self-compassion I can feel my body melt a little, even relax. “Thank You!” it seems to gasp. How could I not realize how tensed up I was?

You might say I have no choice but to stop since my brain on prednisone is alternately scattered to the winds or depressed. But I DO have a choice, every day, every hour, every minute. I’d rather feel the peace of accepting that which I cannot change than the grinding, tectonic friction of anger and guilt. I’m not always successful. So what? I’m not perfect and I don’t necessarily think anger is always a bad emotion. Sometimes anger is righteous.

It’s just that anger held on for too long will inevitably backfire on us and who wants that? Besides, holding on to anger is exhausting and I do not have the energy to spare.

Your burden, I do not doubt, is more complicated, more entrenched, harder to detach from, than mine. But this I know. You are doing your best. It may not feel like it to you, but you are. I know you are.

In order to live long enough to get to the ‘makes us stronger’ part of the quote we must accept that we are good enough, we are worthy enough. Now! Today! If you can’t believe this for yourself then hear me. I will believe it for you. For all of us.

7 Tips to Improve Your Sleep!

Here are a few quick tips to improve the quality of your sleep:

  1. Only use your bed for sleep, sex and reading that trashy novel your book club doesn’t know about. No TV!
  2. Create a soothing bedroom that engages all five senses. Lavender scents, soft cotton sheets, low amber light, quiet, soothing music, even vanilla flavored toothpaste!
  3. After the sun sets keep lights low. Think of it as mimicking a camp fire, which signals the brain to release sleep hormones.
  4. Have a before-bedtime ritual, such as washing your face, brushing teeth, putting on pajamas, stretching, prayers, light reading then lights out.
  5. Go to bed and get up at the same time (within half an hour) every day! This is very importnat even on the weekends.
  6. Exercise but not within four hours of bedtime.
  7. Remember to breathe! Once you are in bed, breathe a few deep yoga breaths and relax. Do not be concerned about sleep. Your only desire is to relax.

Sleep is essential to our health generally and our sanity in particular.  Interrogators know, if you want to break someone down – deprive them of sleep.

I didn’t appreciate how important sleep was until I became sleep deprived myself. About six years ago, anxiety fed my insomnia, which in turn fed my anxiety. It finally drove me to my doctor’s office.  Surely something was very wrong with my thyroid or maybe I had a brain tumor!

A complete workup that took two days and many little tubes of blood… then I met with my medical specialist.  With unforgettable kindness he asked what was going on in my life.  As I ticked off about five pretty high stress events, I could see where he was going with this, and I didn’t like it.  He said, “Well, that would do it for me!”  So the good news was my brain and thyroid were fine, the not so good news…it was all in my head.

No, it couldn’t be!  I was a psychologist for God’s sake!  Wouldn’t I know if stress was making me sick?  Turns out, if you are overwhelmed, even if you are a qualified mental health professional, you are often the last to know.  A humbling lesson. The frog in the pot syndrome a over again.

ANYWAY… For a couple of weeks I took a sleep medication to get my sleep back on track.  Then I got a crash course on sleep hygiene, learned how to breathe to calm down my anxiety and took a serious look at what I could change in my life to allow a better balance.   These are lessons I learn over and over again and now pass on to my clients.  For really serious sleep troubles I use cognitive behavioral therapy, the best non-medication treatment for insomnia.

Recommended Reading… A Good Night’s Sleep, by a couple of smart guys at Harvard Medical School.

Photo courtesy Thowra_uk via Flickr

Negotiating the Minefield of Money in Marriage

This is a talk I wish I had heard early in my marriage. It would have saved me a boat load of grief, tears and nasty fights with my husband. It’s a good thing I’ve learned a lot the hard way and through my training and work with couples. It’s time to share.

This Saturday I will be at the offices of Lauber Financial Planning to talk about Marriage and Money. Amy Jo Lauber is a very special kind of Certified Financial Planner. She cares about people, helping them to embrace good stewardship over their financial responsibilities. Once a month Amy Jo hosts the I Hate Budgeting Support Group. (Such a great name, don’t you think?) This month I have the honor to share some of what I believe can help couples come to a peaceful understanding of how they handle and communicate about money.

We all have our scripts when it comes to handling money. Often we come to our marriages as adults convinced there is a wrong and right way to do things and that is a breeding ground for stress and conflict.

This talk is meant to give you the tools to help you engage in the difficult task of coming together in how you handle money when your scripts differ.

By the end of the talk you will be able to:

1. Embrace this concept: What can I do to be a better spouse?

2. Set aside the need to dominate: Learn how to focus and listen with the intent of truly understanding what your partner is thinking, feeling, what they fear and what they hope, without defensiveness, with an open heart.

3. Learn the four rules for a “Good” argument: The difference between reacting and responding. How to create a safe zone so that you and your spouse may speak freely and confidently!

I hope you will be there, Saturday, May 5, 10:30-12Noon. Click here for directions to Lauber Financial Planning offices.

© Copyright Explore Whats Next - Designed by Pexeto