Video: The Black Dog of Depression



“Humans, especially men, are notorious at forging ahead until the wheels well and truly fly off the trolley. Why is it that we only start looking after our heart after we’ve had a heart attack? The same can be said for our mental health. Look after it now, for a better future.” ~Matthew Johnstone

Describing what it’s like to be severely depressed to someone who’s never been there can be like describing the color blue to someone who was born without sight. Produced by the World Health Organization, written, illustrated and narrated by Matthew Johnstone, this video uses the metaphore of a Black Dog to help understand and validate what depression can feel like and what it takes to find hope again.

Thanks to my friend Mac MacDonald for sharing this with us! You’re the best, Mac!

For Couples: Two Steps to Successfully Problem Solve



So I had a relapse of my kidney problem again which means I have to go back on the prednisone which (surprise!) I hate. This knocked me for a loop because I felt fine. I’d gone off the prednisone completely for a month after being on it for over a year. But that’s not what this post is about. It’s actually about how couples solve problems together. My husband and I have been dealing with this medical nonsense for over 25 years. I’m happy to say we’ve actually gotten pretty good at this. I’m hoping you can take advantage of what we’ve learned.

1. When one of us has a problem we need to have the courage to admit we have a problem.

This is not always the case, but when the issue is serious we bat close to 1000. When we keep our problems to ourselves it’s often because ‘there isn’t time to talk’ (Which is A LIE. There’s always time. You just have to behave like you’re boarding the subway when you’re late to work and force yourself on that train!) or we’re just too busy (Same lie.) That’s when we get into trouble. So this step takes thoughtfulness, moxie and guts.

It means saying out loud to our partner: “I need your help.” or “I’m having a problem with this….” or “I just need you to hear this…”

It helps to add how it makes us feel: “…and it makes me feel so damn mad, confused, frustrated, numb.” Take your pick.

Next the partner on the receiving end, having gotten the heads up that ‘there’s a problem’ can exercise their listening skills. (OK. So this step is actually a two-parter.) Being open without agenda or defensiveness is key: “Wow, that just happened? That sucks. Of course you feel mad, confused and frustrated.” And leave it there.

With a period.

No ‘and’.

No ‘but’.

This is a HUGE important step to couple problem solving. And regardless of the ridiculously sexist notion that it’s only females who need this ACTIVE LISTENING step, we ALL NEED IT. Men, yes, you need it too. Maybe even you’re even active listening deprived.

We all need to be heard first. Be shown compassion first. Be validated first.

2. Once the initial problem and feeling is acknowledged we place the problem in a space where both of us can walk around it, observe it, study it together.

Antoine de Saint-Exupery, the author of The Little Prince, said, “Love does not consist in gazing at each other but in looking outward together in the same direction.”

Too often a couple will place a problem smack between them so that they have little choice but to go at it like battering rams, making the problem fixable only if someone gives in or breaks down in some way. Naturally that makes us defensive.

Do not do this:

“If you would just have the guts to tell your mother to stop dropping by without calling first maybe we’d have some peace around here!”

“It’s not about my mother. You are rude and selfish. She’s just a lonely old lady!”

What a mess. Instead I wish these couples would put the problem out there, in front of them, out from between them. By putting the problem ‘out there’ so that they can both look at it together they quadruple their chances of bonding over finding a workable solution.

The problem isn’t in each other. The problem is that third thing that needs us both to solve, diminish, pulverize it.

Do this:

“I’m having a really hard time with these unexpected visits from your mother. I feel frustrated. It’s hard to plan our day or have private time for our little family and I miss that. Do you ever feel that way?”

(Resisting the urge to get defensive. With a big sigh…) “Yes but it’s really hard to admit because she’s my mother and she’s lonely.”

“Can we recognize that we have a problem? If we do maybe we can come up with a plan that works better for everybody.”

My husband helped me process my anger and frustration, I helped him process some if his own, and then we could both be partners when it came to deciding on the best treatment plan going forward. Despite feeling pretty rotten at first in the end we felt pretty good.

Now just for the hell of it here is a video that is pretty funny (taken with a dollop of salt and a big dose of humor) mostly because it’s an extreme caricature of Mars/Venus – male/female – type communication.

3 Steps to Stop Anxiety’s Lies!



Has this ever happened to you?

It’s a perfectly good day but you are worried about something. That little worry sets off a chain reaction so it gets bigger and bigger until it becomes a huge, all encompassing giant monster of anxiety!

Here’s an example: “What am I going to make for dinner? Ugh, there’s not enough time to make anything good. I guess I’ll make mac and cheese again. I should be eating better. My kids should be eating better. I’m a horrible mother! What is wrong with me!?” Before you know it you have convinced yourself that your entire family is going to die an early death from too much mac and cheese and it’s all your fault!

A call from the boss can lead to anxiety about being fired on the spot. A low bank account becomes dread about eating cat food when we’re old and decrepit. A leaky faucet leads to the house crumbling to a pile of rubble. A mole on our hand is cancer.

This automatic crescendo of anxiety is no joke. It is at the core of what keeps us from taking healthy action against that debilitating, horrible feeling. From 0-100, from a wee bit concerned to overwhelmed in a flash, anxiety can mushroom that fast. Before you know it your feeling as helpless as a turtle flipped on its back.

So what can we do?

Victor Frankl famously said: “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

1. Create the space so that you can think again rather than react. How? By breathing deeply and evenly. Pay attention to where your body is, where is the tension? Just focus on that: stand up, stretch, take a break, wiggle, dance, touch your toes.

2. Use the space. Isolate the thought that drives the anxiety and label it. When anxiety had me by the throat recently I took the time to look at it closely. When I did that I discovered something really weird. The thing I was so anxious about was actually good news! All of a sudden I went from emotionally driving at 100 mph to a more reasonable 50. Not totally calm but much better!

3. Respond. Laugh at it and yourself because whatever caused the anxiety was a gross exaggeration of the truth, a complete distortion or just a silly lie. Embrace the good feeling and choose to go there rather than that awful painful place.

Please realize that anxiety doesn’t give up that easily. It will try to talk you back into its web. Stay strong and like Mulan who discovers that the gigantic monster is really just a teeny, tiny mini-dragon, see through the illusion, accept the truth and brush it off.

Sometimes a Dream is Just a Dream*



*“Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.” ~Sigmund Freud

So here’s another dream.

Last night I dreamt I was walking to my apartment in Manhattan on the upper East side near Lex and 71st Street (which is a dream unto itself). In that weird dream time-bouncy way, I ended up in a gorgeous old pre-war building waiting for the elevator. Who should be there but Michael Jackson just like he looked in the ‘Beat It’ ’80s video, red jacket and all. He was very polite. Of course I was too cool to make a deal out of it so I rode the elevator with Michael Jackson like it was nothing while in my head I was jumping up and down going, “OMG!!! It’s Michael Jackson!!!!”. Then I woke up.

What does it MEAN?!

Who cares? It was fun and made me smile while I brushed my teeth, as I got ready for my real day. The opposite of an anxiety dream, I guess.

How My Anxiety Dream Made My Vacation Better



The other night I had an anxiety dream. You know the kind of dream I’m talking about, where you are in the wings of a big Broadway production clearly expected to go on and you don’t know the part or the lines or the cue or anything!!! Worse, you’re naked and haven’t shaved your legs since October!

That wasn’t my dream exactly although the feeling was the same. Pure fight or flight! My anxiety dream went like this:

I was applying to college! The same college my daughter got into a few months ago for real. I was trying to get into this same college putting in my application, touring the campus etc. I had this interview scheduled only I forgot it! I was going to miss this crucial interview and nothing I tried to do to fix it was working! I tried calling the admissions office but my phone fell apart in my hands! I tried running there but the building kept getting further away instead of closer!

The good news was I was fully clothed, but still it was a nightmare! When I woke up with a start and found myself a middle-aged woman with no college interviews scheduled for the day the relief was incredible!

Occasionally I have a client bring in a dream they want to talk about and it’s almost always a good discussion. I do not believe dreams hold any big mysterious power, like crystal balls or oracles. What’s important is what they mean to us; how the dreamer interprets the dream, not the therapist. Being open to what may be bubbling up from our subconscious is good. So what did my dream mean to me?

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“Be kind, for everyone is fighting a hard battle.” ~Plato



My friend Carolyn Thomas posted this video, produced by the Cleveland Clinic, on her blog, Heart Sisters. She asks “What if hospital staff could read our minds?”

I didn’t know what to expect, I was afraid it would be something awful like that Mel Gibson movie “What Women Want” where a sexist man could read women’s minds. Ick.

But this video blew my mind in its direct simplicity. Not a word is spoken. The quote from Plato above was taken from the first comment to the video on YouTube. Among the gifts I feel my chronic illness gave me was the understanding that a person can look perfectly fine on the outside while dealing with incredible pain both physical and emotional on the inside.

This little film does that one better. It includes a complexity of  conditions: from sadness and grief to elation and joy. What we think people should be burdened with can be very different from what is actually weighing on them or lifting them up. See it for yourself.

via Heart Sisters, one of my absolute favorite blogs:

♥ All about women and heart disease – our #1 killer – from the unique perspective of Carolyn Thomas, a Mayo Clinic-trained heart attack survivor

♥ Information for the general public, heart patients or their family members, health professionals, and all students of the heart.

Roger Ebert Never Lost His Voice



Roger Ebert, who passed away today, is on my mind and the minds of millions of admirers all around the globe. His movie reviews were compelling micro stories, someone called his critiques poetry, even when he didn’t like the film.

From his review of North (1994), directed by Rob Reiner: “I hated this movie. Hated hated hated hated hated this movie. Hated it. Hated every simpering stupid vacant audience-insulting moment of it. Hated the sensibility that thought anyone would like it. Hated the implied insult to the audience by its belief that anyone would be entertained by it.”

~The Quotable Roger Ebert

His reviews of early cinema are relevant to any film enthusiast today. Here is what he had to say about Citizen Kane, which was made the year before he was born. Talk about poetry!

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Train Your Brain to Be Happy!



Train your brain to be happy by writing down 3 things you are grateful for everyday. It might be hard at first but by the fourth week you find yourself seeing the positive around you with greater ease. That’s the message of this 12 minute LOL talk. Shawn talks fast and a little pressured, like he’s on prednisone or a LOT of coffee, but he’s so funny, smart and charming you get over it. Give it a listen.

The Power of Vulnerability



Ever think, “OMG! That’s my life! How the heck did they know?!” That’s how I felt when I saw this video. Feeling vulnerable lately I was astonished to find this TED talk of Dr Brené Brown speaking about her research on shame and vulnerability. She speaks directly and vulnerably (is that a word?) with intelligence and humor. That’s enough of an introduction. Take a look for yourself.

Here’s a bonus follow-up video Dr Brown did after the first one went viral. Two quotes I’ve got to share:

“Guilt is: ‘I did something shameful.’ Shame is: ‘I AM shameful.” Nice nutshell for two abstract concepts, guilt and shame, that we struggle to distinguish and struggle with, period!

And “Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.” Dr Brown herself is a living example of how that works.

Video: How Animals Keep Me Sane!



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