When Intuition Is A Curse

When people come into my office and tell me, very early in a conversation, that they are ‘intuitive’ and ‘can see into people’ I often wonder if they have had trauma. The longer I do this for a living the more I realize that some of us developed our insights into humanity as a protection mechanism. We never knew, when dad or mom walked into the room, whether we were safe or in danger. We had to develop the skill for knowing how to react around instability. We constantly had our radar on. To this day, when we walk into a room, we are keenly aware of how people are feeling and reacting. We have a ‘bead’ on people and think it’s a gift. For some people a gift born out of a curse.

Trauma does weird things to people. Some other day I will talk about the link between trauma and hoarding, or people who can’t seem to finish projects, or those who go from romantic relationship to romantic relationship and consistently make bad decisions. People with trauma often repaint their house too often, or have spending or drug addictions, or have difficulty making decisions. Most trauma survivors become control freaks. Trauma has a way of twisting us emotionally and relationally, of creating fear and insecurity.

A few days ago I went to Swiss Chalet with a close friend who is a 6th Dan Master at his martial art. As we walked to the restaurant I was not worried about being jumped or attacked. I was hoping. When I’m with my martial arts buddies there is little danger of violation. My radar is turned off. The world is a safe place and I am not even remotely worried. Most people grow up in a world that is safe, and therefore have no pressing need to become discerning when they are at home or on the playground. For them the world is a safe place and they have no need for emotional radar.

A few years ago, in a trauma group I was leading, a woman shared about her afternoon and the fearful event she had endured just prior to group. She was in a McDonalds parking lot when two men in hoodies, with the hoods up, approached her in the twilight. As a victim of trauma she was keenly aware of danger and had struggled all her life to trust men, especially strangers. Some time in her past she had been attacked by men, beaten and raped. That late afternoon in the parking lot her radar came on and the meter went through the roof. As she walked across the parking lot she felt her pulse quicken, she began to sweat. She started to panic. In her mind she imagined violations galore and began to catastophize and soon found herself running to the door of the restaurant, in a state of extreme duress. She grabbed the door, threw it open, and fled into the bright lights.

From where she was in the restaurant she watched in horror as the two predators entered the restaurant, pulled down their hoodies and…

… they were ten or eleven year old boys who were completely oblivious to her presence.

One the primary characteristics of PTSD and trauma is something called ‘hyper-vigilance’.

That night in group we talked at length about her fear, born in trauma and pain. It was the beginning of a journey for her, one that takes far longer than people want to admit, filled with counseling and discomfort and setbacks. A journey to freedom. As we say in counseling – trauma trumps everything. What that means is that if you have experienced severe trauma that depression or anxiety you are feeling may not just be because you have situational issues right now that are bringing you down. You need to deal with your emotional trauma, before it ruins the rest of your life. It is a difficult journey but a necessary one. Get help. Talk to a counselor who understands trauma and doesn’t suck.

You’re worth it.

Guest Blogger – Self Harm/Cutting Part 1

This week our guest is Sarah. Check her out! this is the first instalment of a three or four-part journey into self harm, cutting, mutilation, etc.

Part One is called “Down The Rabbit Hole”

“Hey…Uhm, this is sort of an awkward question.” “Shoot.” – “Did your father really die?” “Yes, why?” “Because you seem so happy…”

People often think death is the catalyst for even the most introverted to break down and finally feel that it is OK to not be OK. The little girl in this story did not learn this lesson yet, struck in the summer of grade 5, she returned to school like all her peers and continued being happy because why shouldn’t she be, what is death? Death is going to a solemn ceremony where they paid respect to a cold carcass.

Death is cold. So people act like death is contagious. She touched him because he had been warm on the hospital bed while they manually pumped air into his lungs, but this time he was not her father, she did not know who her mother was softly caressing. For the longest time the little girl would look back in hindsight and regret most, not her bratty attitude while he had been alive, not even his absences during the most part of her life, but that she had irrevocably ran out of tears during his final service. Of the most dominant memory from that entire blur, had been the instinctive and almost desperate will to demand yourself to blast the water works right alongside your mother and sister. She had been faking.

It is OK that the little girl did not understand death. She went on with life.

She met a boy in grade 8, like any other freshman high school-er she was head over heels and walked on faerie dusts. 3 months it took for her to defeat every moral she might have taken had she even foresaw this event coming. She did sexual favors for him – felt like the most grown and sensual teenager out there, got dumped, and then threatened to be blackmailed. She moved. A fortune of coincidence, and convinced herself that she will remake herself, she will not have any sexual intercourse until the age of 18. In this smaller, secluded area, she met another boy, whom for the first time she thought she could describe as love.

But love for her had always been a damned thing and she left when his mother stormed upon her doorstep during the summer of grade 9 and insinuated in front of her entire family that she is a whore. As of now, she probably doesn’t blame her. The girl might even add that she bravos this woman for having the prescient sight, and only briefly hopes that they had been on better terms for the message to come across better. But it hadn’t. So after 9 months of separation, where she lost him, her best friend to him, and proceedingly all her fellow peers because, alas, she cried.

So she went under the knife. 2 months, back together – Sex; Unprotected, then ignored, and eventually dumped in front of his pastor. She thought ‘What a disgusting person I am.’

See, people had always historically viewed self-harm as almost the most emotionally imbalanced act where you are not quite sane and most of the time plagued as the depressed and literally almost always ostracized despite good intentions. The girl does not blame them; it is only human to not want to reside with someone who does not even put in the effort to converse. She is not fun to be around, she was the happy one. And when the smiles are gone, the party dies, and laughter suffocates, eyes are bleak and unaware of the world around them.

It was after the exhausting night. The fight remained inside the girl, she hated her. Hated that woman to openly offend her, proclaim to her entire family that she is undisciplined. Who is she, nothing but a scumbag aunt who owed her family sixty thousand dollars, with the nerve to even fuck things up now that he was gone. It was her birthday night. Inevitably, her mother asked her to sit at the small dining table. It was one in the morning. The girl obliged. But the woman who regarded her had not been what she had expected. It was definitely not pride, not humor, not anything else but exasperation.

And something inside the girl hit a core. Perhaps selfishly, she thought ‘How could you. How could you look at me that way and not even bother to defend me. You are my mom – you’re supposed to be there for me.’ She cried despite herself, and the woman told her one thing above all else that the girl will quietly harbor – “Do not cry; be strong. You have to be strong.”

Perhaps it was not so much the words said, but the tone embedded. She had been so tired. The little girl had hated her also. The skanky, provocatively clad woman who returned at 6 in the morning did not deserve the respect of her mother. She would come home, and she would sometimes be happy, sometimes very angry so the entire household shuddered and covered their mouths to shush their sobbing, but most of the time she disappeared from sight. Then she started attracting gentleman admirers. The girl despised her. She was betraying him. The woman had laughed at her – because the school counselors called home to report her suicidal thoughts.

Afterwards she had beaten her ‘Why can’t you be a normal kid? Why do you have to make so much trouble for me?’  But she was asked to take the girl to a professional; so of course, you go to a family clinic, where it is an elderly Chinese man who probably grew up with no such thing as sentiment. They laughed together ‘How dramatic, she’s just depressed because her father died.’ All the while the little girl was silenced by this eloquent woman. Had she not been the one to cry and whisper to his license, locked inside a room for the entirety of a week? Had she not been the one that frightened the girl to such an extent it became the greatest incentive for her to finally start crying at his funeral? And now she is boasting, almost, at how well she handled this situation and how poor her daughter is in contrast. The girl stopped trusting her. She also stopped trusting counselors.

She remembers crying on the phone to an old friend about the young boy during his 9 months absence. She kept saying she deserved it. Ah, so now she’s learned something about herself. Where did such a thought come from? Cuts, scrapes, maybe even cat scratches she could’ve passed the initial ones. It hurt. More than she had anticipated. But it was good because so. It scarred. And it repeated, like an addict, the dosage deeper each time. She is not insane, she is not mentally unstable. She executes with a lucid mind and clear eyes. And when her mother comes home she is at the computer doing work like any other day. She does not cry for herself. It will always, no matter what, stop with no reasoning but a habit to stop crying. It was apathetic. It is.

Suicide has always been a contemplative subject for her. But it will always remain so because, despite her hatred or depression during a period, she longs to succeed, she wants to prove herself. Most of all she desperately wants that woman to finally see her, and listen. That was the reason why the girl had been drawn towards school counselors’ right? A separated, quiet place where she is allowed to be weak, to cry and speak and be heard.

It’s funny because we spend most of our lives using our most common etiquette to apologize for unfortunate events that are not our fault. It’s this innate, built-in social marking that drives us to always reply with sorry at the news of someone’s death. Oh, I’m sorry. You hurt yourself? – Sorry. I’m crying? Damn, sorry. Even that silly little girl, glorified him upon all her school wide writes, as if that would hide her lack of memory of him – what a phony, but she is sorry all the same, for something beyond her control. Of course, that word does nothing to the receiver; they do not need your condolences, least the awkward apology. They are not damaged goods because they have death or self-harm somewhere in their history. They are sad, whether they’d like to admit it or not. They want someone to listen to them, even if they always felt or think and feel that they don’t trust anyone to open up in such a vulnerable state. Or better yet, feel they’ve rid themselves of all emotion and are above and beyond this mundane sharing. They sort of hate themselves too, even if they know logically that we should never beat ourselves up for past mistakes because at one point or another, it had been exactly what we wanted. They are not stupid. So don’t tiptoe – they have eyes too. They are also prideful, their ego bruised and mayhap a bit saddened that their family members are concerned about their less than enthusiastic state – and this is where ‘shit, I didn’t hide it well enough. Sorry’ appears again.

It is like circling a wild horse, trying to tame it.  Not everyone can do it. Not everyone has the patience to carry out that task, just some things; some persons are worth it – to you. But above all, they are frightened, as the confused horse is. Frightened not only of you, but of themselves, they do not know what they want, or need, they kind of want you, and really don’t at the same time. They’ll fend you off, and all the while repeat to themselves that they are a bad person. They don’t want their stories to be digested the same way media gobbles tragedy, where the world has become desensitized. They are selfish as any other person. Therefore human, just as you, one of you – As you’ve guessed, I’m the little girl.

I’m still just a young girl, a tad sad, quite profoundly lost, I wouldn’t be able to tell you what I’m looking for and I definitely do not have the expertise to advise you on what to do with someone who has experienced death or inflicted self-harm. But I’m OK, I’ll survive. If there’s one thing I can tell you – Laughter is contagious.

Guest Blogger – Rule of Stupid on Self Blame

Today’s guest is Rule of Stupid, an amazingly honest, fearless blog with the best header picture I have seen. Check him out!

Scott has kindly invited me to write a post for his blog. The invite came from a post Scott wrote, and in particular a phrase he used about fears we have – “if people really knew us, if we really acted in an authentic way, that no one would like us”. The phrase “if you really knew me you’d hate me” haunted me for years and I’m going to try to share some of my story in the hope it might help any readers.

I had a troubled time growing up. My mother was dysfunctional, my father had left when I was a baby and we were poor. When my mother re-married it was to a dark and brooding man who brought a lot of pain and abuse.

The trouble is, when parents inflict trauma on a child the child has to cope, but doesn’t have any coping strategies. Every message, biological and cultural, tells the child that parents look after them, and that parents are, to all intents and purposes, God – all powerful and always right.

So when parents bring pain, the easiest way to make sense of this is to put the blame on the self. “Parents are good, but they hurt me, so I must be bad.” This is the coping strategy that often results from bad parents.

Sadly, a strategy that pays off so young is incredibly hard to shake. In fact the strategy soon becomes invisible – we don’t even know we are doing it – so it just becomes the norm. We then grow up with a permanent sense that everything bad that happens is somehow our fault.

This is the origin of the all to common “if you knew me you’d hate me” mantra. The self-blame has morphed into a blame that pre-empts our mistakes – it is now a general attitude to ourselves.

Another tragedy is that the belief can create the reality. If we think we are rubbish we will shy away from making friends – then our loneliness will increase our sense that we are rubbish. On the flip-side, we can horribly over-compensate and become brash and insensitive – “people won’t like me anyway, so I won’t care about them either!”

We come to operate in so many ineffective ways that our lives can become one big, self-fulfilling prophecy of loneliness and misery.

So how did I get out?

First, I have to say it took years, and I can’t write a fifty-page post. Instead I’m going to try and summarize the most helpful thing for me.

Love.

For me the love that saved me was my wife. For others I know, however, it has been love of music, a friend, writing – the object doesn’t matter. What matters is that we find something outside ourself that we want so bad we’d do anything for it. Even be ourselves!

When I first picked up a guitar I fell in love, and I remain in love today. I loved music so much that I played in front of others. I discovered that I could confess to them in song, both showing myself and still hiding myself behind the safety of the phrase ‘it’s just a song’. While still terrified of the world my passion for music saw me take to the stage. I learned to talk between songs and found parts of myself that people liked.

For a while I was a musical clown, creative and funny, and I enjoyed it. Then I met my wife – and she wanted more than a funny guitarist. I couldn’t hide behind a mic any more.

But again, I loved her enough to try, to risk, to dare. I slowly, painfully revealed more and more of myself, and as I showed myself to her, so it became natural to show those things to others.

No-one has ever rejected me for my honesty. My friendships have only ever grown stronger.

I once believed many things that are not true. One was that everybody else had it sussed out except me. They didn’t. Everyone struggles.

A second was that once I had it figured out, things wouldn’t hurt any more. They will. Pain is part of life for everyone – but so is pleasure. Hide from pain and you lose pleasure too.

Another was that there was some magic trick, some arcane knowledge or potion, some secret that would make me alright, take away the pain, give me confidence. There isn’t one.

But that isn’t bad news – it’s the best news you can have – because if there’s no secret, no hidden magic, then healing is available for everyone. And it really is!

So here’s the bad news.

It’s going to hurt.

My wife and I argued. I went through some very dark depression. We struggled and we hurt – but we kept going, thank God. That’s the only secret – if it’s even a secret – that you keep going.

Breaking the belief that we are ugly inside, shameful or that people will hate us is both the easiest thing and the hardest thing in the world. There is only one way, and that is to find out – to show yourself, to dare, to risk. It is scary, it is painful, but it is also beautiful, liberating and like slowly seeing in colour for the first time.

More than anything I can say with absolute confidence, with the knowledge of experience, that the pain of facing the fear is less than the pain of suffering under the fear without end.

You are not china, you are not fragile – you have survived everything so far, you have survived what gave you this pain! You can survive being the real you and when you do you will rejoice in it.

Coming Tomorrow: The Biggest Complaint I Get About Men, Hands Down!

And Therein, As The Bard Would Tell Us, Lies The Rub*

I had a Grand Mal Seizure (tonic-clonic) last week. Apparently 10% of people will have one in their lifetime. My neurologist was explaining this to me last week and flippantly commented, “So if there are ten people out in that waiting room, one of them will have a seizure.” My wife, not missing a beat, said, “So as long as Scott is in the room we should be ok.” I love her.

The seizure took place at the medical clinic where I work. I have been told that I smashed my head against the wall, tried to bite my good friend and doctor, attempted to spinning back-kick another doctor, developed a case of Turrets, and basically held the medical office hostage. There is some speculation that I stopped breathing at one point. I woke up on a gurney, then in the ambulance, than at the hospital. I have significant short-term memory loss and have no remembrance of the situation. Weird.

Every so often we are reminded that we are not immortal. A little over a year ago I had a major traffic accident on a prairie road in the middle of nowhere. Other than some broken ribs, I walked away unharmed. After that accident I spent some time reflecting on the fact that my life was spared because I turned left (into oncoming traffic) instead of the logical choice, right. I spent a few months practicing the techniques I teach others, and was able to glean some healthy insights.

People have asked me since if I learned anything from these experiences. I have. Coming out of the hospital, after two days in the overflow wing that I shared with three female senior citizens I learned that old women really snore, and do vile things to a bathroom if left unattended. I also learned that I have been taking time for granted and have become lazy. When I am tired it is far easier to watch television than do something productive. It is tempting to waste my life on things that don’t matter. I am a driven person, but can truly be lazy between dreams. The older I grow the easier it is to sit around, skip my martial arts classes, and sit around with a remote control in my hands. Because I have a bad knee it is a simple thing to find a pseudo-sensible reason for my lethargy. And the clock continues to tick.

These are lessons one would expect to learn from any near-death or feels-near-death experience. The world is replete with stories about how the accident survivor felt they had a fresh start, a new chance and opportunity. This is, it would seem, a natural and hopeful response to these things. What I didn’t expect was to lose my short-term memory. I didn’t expect to forget where I lived, where my son’s bedroom was, how to put a key in the lock, and virtually all the meaningful experiences I have had in the recent past. I cannot remember Thanksgiving three weeks ago. Apparently we went out to the lake the next day for a picnic. I could not remember how to check my email, how to Skype, how to do case notes at work. I had no idea how to edit this blog. I actually phoned Godaddy and had them walk me through it. The first morning back at work I had four clients I apparently knew well but could not, for the life of me, remember their names.

It all started when I woke up in the ambulance. I felt normal, clear, and wondered why I was so vigorously strapped to the gurney. They asked me the normal questions – name, address, did I know what happened… I got the first one right. I knew my name, why would you ask me something like that? My address, what is my address? Something felt wrong. It was as if I had a space in my head where my address was supposed to fit. It is hard to explain to someone who has never experienced it.

I am back at work today. It only took me thirty seconds to remember which key opened the front door. I watched my wife drive away (my license is suspended for thirty days) and then nonchalantly stood by the door. And the clock continued to click. It eventually came to me, all of a sudden, that it was the weird flower key that stuck out like a sore thumb. I got my inner office door opened in only two tries.

This is very frustrating. I still remember what I have learned, still can engage clients in counseling. In some ways I am more in tune with counseling than I ever have been. I feel like I am at the top of my game, until you hand me keys. I will not remember certain details, and will not know I do not know.

This is very hard on my ego. I get paid to be smart, to be present, insightful, intuitive, engaging. If i let myself dwell on this, it will be easy to become anxious, or depressed, and begin to panic. And therein, as the bard would tell us, lies the rub.*

I teach people everyday to control their emotions before they become controlled. I am an evangelist for CBT, REBT, DBT, psychoanalysis, etc. I believe with my whole heart that this stuff works. Of course it is one thing for me to believe this works for other people.

It is another thing altogether to believe this works for me.

“Physician heal thyself.”

*stolen from “Inside Man“.

Orgasms – Finally An Anxiety Medication I Can Fully Endorse

Adult Content .. Penn St officials head to cou...

Forget Clonazepam – when you’re in the mood, it just might help your health. How does a juicy sex life do a body good? Let’s count the ways. Here are 10 health benefits of sex — backed up by science.

1. Less Stress, Better Blood Pressure

Having sex could lower your stress, and your blood pressure. That finding comes from a Scottish study of 24 women and 22 men who kept records of their sexual activity. The researchers put them in stressful situations, such as speaking in public and doing math out loud, and checked their blood pressure.

People who had had intercourse responded better to stress than those who engaged in other sexual behaviors or abstained.

Another study published in the same journal found that diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number of your blood pressure) tends to be lower in people who live together and often have sex. And yet another study found that women who get lots of hugs from their partner tend to have better blood pressure.

2. Sex Boosts Immunity

Having sex once or twice a week has been linked with higher levels of an antibody called immunoglobulin A or IgA, which can protect you from getting colds and other infections.

So say scientists at Wilkes University in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. They studied 112 college students who kept records of how often they had sex and also provided saliva samples for the study. Those who had sex once or twice a week had higher levels of IgA, an antibody that could help you avoid a cold or other infections, than other students.

3. Sex Burns Calories

Thirty minutes of sex burns 85 calories or more. It may not sound like much, but it adds up: 42 half-hour sessions will burn 3,570 calories, more than enough to lose a pound. Doubling up, you could drop that pound in 21 hour-long sessions.

“Sex is a great mode of exercise,” says Patti Britton, PhD, a Los Angeles sexologist. It takes work, from both a physical and psychological perspective, to do it well, she says.

4. Sex Improves Heart Health

Having sex may be good for your heart. A 20-year-long British study shows that men who had sex twice or more a week were half as likely to have a fatal heart attack than men who had sex less than once a month.

And although some older folks may worry that the sex could cause a stroke, that study found no link between how often men had sex and how likely they were to have a stroke.

5. Better Self-Esteem

Boosting self-esteem was one of 237 reasons people have sex, collected by University of Texas researchers and published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior.

That finding makes sense to Gina Ogden, PhD, a sex therapist and marriage and family therapist in Cambridge, Mass., although she finds that those who already have self-esteem say they sometimes have sex to feel even better.

“One of the reasons people say they have sex is to feel good about themselves,” she says. “Great sex begins with self-esteem. … If the sex is loving, connected, and what you want, it raises it.”

Of course, you don’t have to have lots of sex to feel good about yourself. Your self-esteem is all about you — not someone else. But if you’re already feeling good about yourself, a great sex life may help you feel even better.

6. Deeper Intimacy

Having sex and orgasms boosts levels of the hormone oxytocin, the so-called love hormone, which helps people bond and build trust.

In a study of 59 women, researchers checked their oxytocin levels before and after the women hugged their partners. The women had higher oxytocin levels if they had more of that physical contact with their partner.

Higher oxytocin levels have also been linked with a feeling of generosity. So snuggle up — it might help you feel more generous toward your partner.

7. Sex May Turn Down Pain

Here’s another thing the love hormone, oxytocin, does: It boosts your body’s painkillers, called endorphins. So if your headache, arthritis pain, or PMS symptoms seem to improve after sex, that may be why.

In one study, 48 people inhaled oxytocin vapor and then had their fingers pricked. The oxytocin cut their pain threshold by more than half.

8. More Ejaculations May Make Prostate Cancer Less Likely

Frequent ejaculations, especially in 20-something men, may lower the risk of getting prostate cancer later in life, some research shows.

For instance, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that men who had 21 or more ejaculations a month, were less likely to get prostate cancer than those who had four to seven ejaculations per month.

Of course, that study doesn’t prove that ejaculations were the only factor that mattered. Many things affect a person’s odds of developing cancer. The researchers did take that into consideration, and the findings still held.

9. Stronger Pelvic Floor Muscles

For women, doing pelvic floor muscle exercises called Kegels may mean will enjoy more pleasure — and, as a perk, less chance of incontinence later in life.

To do a basic Kegel exercise, tighten the muscles of your pelvic floor, as if you’re trying to stop the flow of urine. Count to three, then release.

10. Better Sleep

The oxytocin released during orgasm also promotes sleep, research shows.

Getting enough sleep has also been linked with a host of other health perks, such as a healthy weight and better blood pressure. Something to think about, especially if you’ve been wondering why your guy can be active one minute and snoring the next.

By Kathleen Doheny

 

Casual Friday: The NTLA

Many years ago I belonged to an exclusive men’s club called the NTLA.

I won’t tell you just what the initials stand for yet so it’ll give you something to do for a few minutes. The members of this club were passionate about canoeing and not just any kind of canoeing – whitewater. We would pattern our whole year around the NTLA. We would plan and share pictures. Whenever a few of us and our wives were together that’s all we would talk about. The NTLA.

It was like being in a room with a bunch of teachers. Many of my finest friends are teachers and they are awesome people… alone. But put two teachers in the same postal code and you can pretty much leave the room. You know who you are.

Teachers love to talk about teaching. In Fort McMurray my three best friends were teachers, and if we were all together… it was so boring. I could pretty much leave the room and they wouldn’t care. I would try to enter into the conversation and they would all turn to me, give me the little patronizing smile, and pat me on the head and say to each other… “oh, isn’t that cute. He thinks he knows something about teaching.” They would throw me a cookie and go back to talking.

There were no women allowed in the NTLA. Not that any of our wives were interested. By the time the NTLA would come around, they were begging us to go away – so everyone was happy.

It was called the “No tan-line annual”, the NTLA. 6 guys, 3 canoes, beans, testosterone, burping, farting, and no toothpaste, no bathing suits.There was a cardinal rule. No bathing. I used to wear the same clothes pretty much the whole time we were out there. It was guy heaven. If we would have had access to a remote control it would have been perfect.

We were passionate about the NTLA. We collected all the info, planned overly, prepared anally. We were into it. It was important to me. To all of us.

Then one year it fell apart. It was the year I first found out my wife had breast cancer and I was an emotional wreck. I phoned my best friend at the time in search of emotional support and before very long it denigrated into a conversation about how he didn’t feel that we should do the canoe trip anymore. I couldn’t understand why, and my emotional state did not aid in my comprehension of what was really going on.

A few months later, on a whim, I phoned my best friend to see how things were. His wife answered the phone and said in a slightly surprised tone, “Aren’t you with him? Why aren’t you on the canoe trip?”

Seven years before that phone call I had started this canoe trip. For years it had been the center-piece of my year. I had taught the participants how to paddle, read maps, make wet fires, shoot whitewater (usually the Churchill River), look for a campsite. Now they had gone on a trip and did not want me there. I was crushed. Later on the phone with one of the guys he explained that I was too intense, they wanted a casual trip not an adventure every year. He said that they did not value my friendship, that there had been personality and leadership conflicts. They simply didn’t want me around.

Five guys whom I had considered close friends. One whom I thought of as a brother. I felt beaten. My feelings of self-worth plummeted. Not only could I do nothing to help my wife during her hardest battle of her life; now I began to realize my friends wanted nothing to do with me. Many of my hand holds were being stripped away.

Most people love you conditionally.

Philip Yancey tells the story of Dr. Paul Brand who has devoted his life to treating leprosy patients in India. In the course of one examination Brand laid his hand on the patient’s shoulder and informed him through a translator of the treatment that lay ahead. To his surprise the man began to shake with muffled sobs. “Have I said something wrong?” Brand asked the translator. She quizzed the patient and reported, “No, doctor. He says he is crying because you put your hand around his shoulder. Until he came here no one had touched him for many years.”

Many years have come and gone since the NTLA. I have grown up, become much more self-aware, and understand more about life than I once did. I continue to learn what it means to be authentic, as much as I am able.

As I look back on that time in my life I have come to understand that there are few people who will be there for you, no matter what. Most people have the best of intentions but struggle to understand the true cost of ‘unconditional love’. I have also come to appreciate the few people in my life who I cannot shake, cannot surprise, cannot impress, and cannot chase away. Those individuals who love you in spite of who you are, not because of what you can do for them. They inspire me to want to be a better person, to walk the walk – not just talk the talk.

I spent some time this morning with a close friend, someone whom I would like to believe I care about unconditionally. This article came up during our conversation. I was struck but the gravity of what I was proposing; loving people without judgement, without agenda, without walking away when everyone else does. It forced me to confront my own premise and ask myself what Cory would have to do for me to abandon him. It would be nice to write glib sentiments about my willingness to “lay down my life for a friend”. It’s another thing altogether to live that commitment when I am busy, or self-absorbed, or hurting.

They say a friend will help you move, a real friend will help you move a body. I would hope if it came down to it, I would be willing to take the wet end.

If you liked this article you might want to check out – Lowering Your Expectations

Depression: How To Feel Like A Loser

I hate walking. We have a corner store at the end of our block (seven houses away) and I have, on occasion, driven there for licorice. This made the advice from the counselor even more problematic. I was depressed and the thought of walking it off was a million miles away. If I didn’t want to walk when I was healthy, why would I consider it now?

They sit across from me, and tell me a story. They have been to see counselors for depression and were given what seemed to be helpful advice, “Do something”. Take a walk, get out of the house, socialize, join a group, go to church, or join a gym.

Seriously? Anyone who has had serious depression can tell you that this is terrible advice. If someone is having difficulty getting out of bed, is feeling despondent, is wondering if life is worth it, is too exhausted to have a shower; what is the chance they will go for a walk tomorrow morning?

There is no way you could do the things he/she asked you to do. When you went to the psychologist you had depression. Now you have depression and you feel like a failure.

Thanks for nothing.

I would like to suggest that It is a serious error for clinicians to give such counsel to a patient who is seriously depressed and has had difficulty coping and functioning on the most basic level. It is perhaps the most misused advice about depression that I have encountered. People who are struggling with intense depression cannot ‘do’ much of anything. It is a miracle that they made it to their appointment for counseling.

In therapy I often tell patients that dealing with depression begins with what is easiest. So what can they ‘do’ that has huge gains for little effort? Dealing with depression correctly starts with changing the way we think about what is going on. I tell the patient, “Change your mind and your ass will follow”. It is almost impossible to change your circumstances when you are starting out. Getting out of bed is a major chore; going for a daily walk is laughable. Most people cannot, or will not, engage in regular physical activity when they are clinically depressed.

The second mistake is trying to start by changing how you feel. Emotions are the least reliable and most difficult thing to change. Some nights I feel like working out so I think to myself, “I should get up really early tomorrow and do some martial arts, maybe write a few blog posts, and make a big breakfast for the family!”

That all sounds completely doable in the evening. When the alarm goes off at some ungodly hour the next morning, however, I rarely ‘feel’ like getting up. What was I thinking? What a ridiculous idea! It seemed like such a smashing idea the night before; when I was already awake. A great idea, in fact, in theory.

I am learning that doing something only when I feel like it, especially something that requires discipline or commitment, is a horrible way to live one’s life. I never ‘feel’ like going to the dentist, or taking an eight-hour martial arts test, or paying my taxes. Unfortunately the tax department ‘feels’ like making me pay anyway.

So what can you talk about in counseling for depression then? When patients come to see me I tell them that most likely nothing significant will change in the first month. All I’m going to ask them to do is talk; about their situation, their past, their attitude; their coping mechanisms. In turn I will talk to them about our propensity to employ cognitive distortions, how to stop their mind from ‘going there’, mindfulness, radical acceptance. We will look at the ‘why’ questions, find out if there has been trauma, and help them address their dysfunctional thoughts, feelings, and actions.

The interesting thing is, about a month or two into therapy the patient will come to a session and report that they are starting to see improvement and change. If I ask them why they will often say that they are not sure. Things just ‘happened’. This is because they have begun to view life through a different lens and cope in different and functional ways. There are many counselors who will tell you that this strategy works, even if it doesn’t seem to initially make sense. For some reason talking to a good counselor can change your life. If you’re like me, and I know I am, you will probably never get enough counseling to like going for walks though.

I’m not a miracle worker…

p.s. – if you are a counselor/therapist why not consider writing a guest blog about your unique perspective, an interesting experience, or what you are learning. I have learned so much from others who have shared their heart and skills with me and would appreciate any input you might have.

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We Believe In You

It took me fifteen years to get my black belt in Sun Hang Do Martial Arts. Some people do it in four but apparently I am a slow learner. That and the fact that I took a ‘break’ for ten years. I had been only a few months from my black belt exam when my life fell apart. Soon after I rebroke my knee, and because of the state of mind I was in, didn’t think I could come back. For ten years I avoided people I knew at Sun Hang Do and lived with regret. Getting a black belt was something I had dreamed of since I was nine or ten years of age.

A dream that had died.

A few years ago, however, I ran into an old friend and martial arts master, Dave Kinney, who encouraged me to try again. Coming back was difficult, humiliating, and more physically demanding than I would have believed.

But I am a stubborn person.

Last May, fighting off two weeks of Mononucleosis, I showed up for the infamous black belt test. As the eight-hour test was about to start, Dave’s brother, and another amazing guy, Brian Kinney, came up to me and said he wanted to help me have a good day. He opened his wallet and produced a business card with a dime taped to it – a memento of a talk I had given during another black belt test twelve years earlier.

A memento that he has kept in his wallet all these years. Another brilliant martial artist and friend, Kumar Bandyo, still has his as well.

Sometimes it is easy to wonder if you make a difference in this world. The martial art I take part in is dedicated to changing the world. That morning Brian reminded me that anyone, even me, can make a difference.
Brian is the third member of Sun Hang Do that has told me he still had his dime, and the only one to produce it. Thanks Brian, that really touched me.

Here is the story I used, not my own, so many years ago. After telling it I handed out a business card with the dime taped to it, the Sun Hang Do Logo on the front, and the words, “we believe in you.”

In 1965 the quarterback for the Green Bay Packers was a guy named Bart Starr. He was a great football player but more importantly, he was a great dad.

He had a son, his namesake, Bart Jr. Every time Bart Jr. brought home a paper from school with good marks, or did well in life his dad would write him a note that said something like, “Son, I really believe in you. I’m proud of what you’re doing. Keep going, I love you, Dad.” And then he’d take the dime and scotch tape it on a piece of paper. That dime to his son began to be a symbol to him of his dad really believing in him.

One weekend the Packers went to St. Louis to play the Cardinals, and Bart Starr played the worst game of his entire career. He was intercepted three times, literally lost the game for his team. He flew back to Green Bay, got off the plane and went home, totally deflated and feeling down.

He walked into his bedroom that night and on the dresser was a note from his son. It said, “Dad I really believe in you. I’m proud of what you’re doing. Keep going, I love you….. Bart. And taped to the note ….. was a dime.

When you feel like you are losing and no one cares, when you wonder if you can make it; it’s good to know someone is cheering you on.

Here’s your dime.

Dime Bar

Guest Blogger Wednesday: When Chronic Pain Steals Your Life

Wednesdays I host a guest blogger – professionals, clients, friends, strangers; stories of success and failure, people who are suffering, some who are opinionated, all of whom are a work in progress. These are struggles about real life issues. If you are interested in telling your story email me at info@scott-williams.ca.

Here’s one that maybe you can relate to:

When Scott asked me to do a guest blog he sent me the following message over Facebook: “you should guest blog about how your life got screwed by your medical problems.” Far from being the most offensive thing he’s ever said, I think it’s still apparent that the average person would probably have worded it more politely. Scott is not the average person. Neither am I. To know me is to understand that if what you say is intentionally horrible I will probably laugh at it, especially if I know you. If you’ve ever heard of “dead baby” jokes you’ll understand my humor.

That sense of humor sometimes quite literally keeps me going.

I’ll preface my medical story by saying that by no means do I believe that mine is more horrible than others. I know that I’m damn lucky compared to most people on this Earth.

In my glory days I was active and spontaneous and embarrassingly unembarrassable. In what I think was the summer of ’07 I was visiting someone when, at dinner, I suddenly got a muscle cramp in my leg. It was the worst pain that I’ve ever felt and I’ve broken both of my arms. I recovered quickly, but never forgot that moment and I’ve feared that pain ever since.

A few months later I was walking home from work when a twitch and a strange sensation went down that same leg. I thought for sure that it was happening again and panicked, but the cramp never came. Since then the twitching and strange sensation has coupled with aching, tingling and weakness in both legs and it’s never gone away.

Soaking in the fear that at any time I was about to have a rematch with the worst pain of my life, and living with the aforementioned symptoms for four and a half years without a diagnosis (not even a hint), I developed a nasty little anxiety problem with tendencies toward agoraphobia and hypochondria. But not knowing what was wrong was the worst part. The more anxiety I got, the more I obsessed over what I might have. Was I dying? Was I delusional?

After my legs went, so went my belief in God, followed by who, at the time, I thought was the love of my life. Disabled, alone and feeling very defeated I moved home. If Scott dares have me back after this then perhaps I’ll tell about leaving my religion.

Suffice it to say, I lost a lot of friends. I not only pushed them away, but I also felt unable physically to be with them. Very few have remained. I became inactive. In my own eyes I became useless. For two or so years I fell into a depression. One night I went outside to cry so as to not wake my family. I sat there and decided that jumping off of a bridge would be the best way to go. The next day, due to some fluke of hormones or sunlight, I was feeling better, stronger. I went for a walk to try to keep my legs strong (which is often physically painful). I told myself then that I was going to university. If I could not make use of my body then I would make use of my mind. I acknowledged that if I failed in this that I would likely end up looking over the railing of a bridge getting ready to use my defective legs for one last jump. University would not be easy, it would indeed be painful, and with my anxiety it would also be scary, but I considered it my only option.

I started school the following winter. My main interests are psychology and philosophy and without conceit I can tell you, I’m damn good. Maybe it’s my passion for the subjects, or the threat of death, but I’ve been very motivated to succeed. For four consecutive semesters I dealt with the anxiety of leaving my house, speaking to strangers, taking a bus to school, wearing out my legs causing pain, cramps and twitching on top of the usual stress of school itself. By the end of the fourth I had beaten that anxiety nearly to dust. I no longer needed the Xanax that my doctor had prescribed. I was studying like a dead baby (because I had no life!) and I was getting ready for my next set of final exams. Two days before the first one something new happened. I don’t know how it works with others that suffer from anxiety, but to me something new was terrifying. Suddenly and for seemingly no reason I felt swelling in my throat. Of course I knew that this was the end. I’d be dead any minute, choking to death. That was not my ideal way to go. My anxiety shot through the roof and although my throat never closed up (I was never in any real danger of that happening) I just knew that it was about to happen at any second.

The swelling never went away. I got 60% on my final exam in Philosophy 100, my favourite class. I’d been getting above 90% until then. My anxiety was back with a vengeance, stronger than ever before. Before I had leg pain to worry about. Now I had nausea and choking and cancer and a million other mysteries to fear.

Ironically the problem with my legs was diagnosed soon after – Complex Regional Pain Syndrome. All I ever wanted was a diagnosis. But now that I have one, I can’t enjoy it. Life’s funny like that. It’s been five months since then. There was a point about a month ago when I went in to my doctor to get the results of two separate tests. These would tell me whether the problem in my throat was hypothyroidism or thyroid cancer. I was almost praying for hypothyroidism, but even if it was cancer, at least then I would know. I got what I perceived to be the worst news possible. Both tests came back negative. I was back to the beginning, the not knowing, the fear, the helplessness and hopelessness. Depression started coming back. I dropped my classes for this Fall semester. I could barely leave my room never mind go to school. It was obvious that I needed help. So, I’ve started seeing a psychologist (one that doesn’t suck). She’s taught me some meditation, encouraged me to exercise, and taught me how to argue with myself, tell myself that I’m being irrational when I obsess over my health.

I still don’t know what’s wrong with my throat. I don’t know what the future holds. I’m not particularly hopeful about it either. But I’m also not hopeless. Who knows? There’s still a chance for me. I can beat this anxiety crap. I’ve nearly done it once before, and now I’ve got backup. And as long as I have the ability to laugh at the absurdity of my own horror, I’ll be able to hold on.

Coming tomorrow: Dealing With Your Addiction: Why A 12 Step Program May Not Be Enough

Beating Anxiety And Depression Is Possible, But It May Be More Work Than You Are Prepared To Do

Anxiety and depression are plaguing 21st Century culture. It’s an epidemic.

We have never had better medications to provide relief, never had better therapies available. Health care, thorough physicians, EAP programs for free counseling, nurses, and other professionals has never been as accessible.There is no world war, most of us do not have a terminal illness. Employment is at an all time low. So what is the problem? Is there any hope?

Day after day people tell me in counseling that they have been dealing with anxiety and depression for years, even decades. They have been on antidepressants literally for generations. They believe that they have a biological issue, some sort of genetic flaw, though no one can identify when or how they were tested to confirm the neurochemical prognosis. Many people, at least in my part of the world have seen a psychiatrist who, after ten or twenty minutes, has diagnosed them (without any evidence-based analysis) as having a depressive or anxiety disorder. I have asked these individual what tests were run, what scale was used; did you even fill out a Burns Depression Questionnaire, or a PHQ-9, or a HAM-A/D, a GAD-7? Anything? Did you share the story of your past few years, describe the emotional and psychological stressors?

Twenty minutes every month and a prescription for an antidepressant, a benzodiazepine, and a sleeping medication. Many, many of my patients have been taking these same medications for a decade or more and have no idea if they do anything substantive.

The hard truth is that taking medication for a generalized anxiety or depressive disorder is only a small part of the solution (though perhaps necessary); and by themselves do little to address the important questions. Dealing with anxiety and depression requires actually dealing with the key causes, issues and effects, and takes a tremendous amount of learning, transition, and vigilance.

I tell patients that the tools they need to address these issues are incredibly simple to learn and very very difficult to master. This requires a level of humility and dedication most people are not willing to give. If you have a major issue with anxiety or depression it is going to take major work. But with the right tools, a counselor that doesn’t suck, and a dedication to do ‘whatever it takes’, you can experience significant change in just a few months.

But you need the right tools. If you go to a counselor and they tell you that you need to begin by changing your lifestyle (like the doctor who tells you to fight depression by going for a long walk every morning) then fire that therapist. Real change begins with changing your mind, not your activities or emotions. A counselor who knows what they are doing will challenge you to deal with your thoughts, show you how to practice taking back control of your impulses, and help you learn to address your dysfunctional coping skills and cognitive distortions.

With depression, for example, if you could go for a long walk every morning you probably wouldn’t be talking to your doctor. A person who is seriously depressed is usually unable to find the energy or motivation to open the curtains, let alone go for long hikes. So once again you are a failure, only further entrenching your despondency. A good counselor will help you find hope, not set you up for more failure.

Depressed people can get better. Every day I teach people the tools they need to find hope. The problem is that not everyone is prepared for the relentless battle that is necessary to drag your emotions and garbage, kicking and screaming, back into your control. You will have to fight your own dysfunctional thinking and learn to get control of your mind, battle your obsessions, say no to your desires, and question your own beliefs. This is a great deal of work and pain but the reward is sanity, hope, and a shot at a happy life.

I love what Tony Campolo once said, “As children we were taught to pray the prayer, ‘If I should die before I wake’. Most of us should be praying, ‘If I should wake before I die’.” Many of us have been walking around most of our lives half asleep, half alive. Isn’t it time we woke up? Anxiety is not a terminal illness. Panic attacks can be beaten. Depressed people find hope.

Don’t give up, you’re worth it.

Dealing With Your Baggage

child abuseSexual abuse is destroying our society. It’s almost impossible to find accurate statistics on the percentage of women who were molested as children and adolescents. Numbers vary wildly between 20-60%. Statistics about the molestation of boys hovers somewhere between 6 and 24%.

Emotional and physical abuse statistics are difficult to measure but can be equally as devastating, and not just for children.

What everyone does agree on, however, is the devastating impact of sexual, physical and emotional abuse and neglect. Almost every day I hear story after story of pain and abuse from earliest memory to adulthood. I have often contended that just about everyone has endured some form of abuse by the time they are in their forties. It is easy, therefore, to believe that there is no hope, no cure, no relief from something that looms so large that it feels impossible to overcome. But what if it could be dealt with? What if the effects of this hell on earth could be diminished, even alleviated?

Trauma, whether from childhood or as an adult, is devastating and left undealt with, often affects us for the rest of our lives. Even those of us who have not had a ‘trauma’ event, so to speak, may also have the effects of trauma due to long-term abuse, neglect, or situations which have damaged us emotionally or physically.

Maybe you were not sexually or emotionally abused as a child but wonder if you may still have real baggage. Maybe you grew up in a single family home and it has left you tainted or emotionally wounded. You may have had an emotionally unavailable parent, heard more than your share of verbal abuse or yelling, or had parents who drank too much or used drugs.

Divorce can often have devastating effects on children as well. So can witnessing violence, so can growing up with insecurity or self-esteem issues. Your parents may have shown you dysfuntional ways to deal with stress or relationships.

Although we have different issues, many of us are carrying baggage around. In my course on Trauma we talk about some of the bizarre ways this has impacted many lives. Survivors of trauma are often hoarders, or cannot commit to a relationship, or have difficulty finishing problems, or have long term sexual issues including the seeming inability to be sexually satisfied.

Wounded people often struggle with more loneliness, are far more critical of themselves or others, or are what we call hypervigilent. Their danger radar is especially fine tuned and they are constantly on a high state of alert. There is even evidence to suggest that many who consider themselves ‘discerning’ or ’emotionally in tune’ are actually victims of trauma who have developed this hyper awareness as a defence mechanism.

The list of potential issues associated with trauma goes on and on – difficulty relaxing, problems with intimate relationships, difficulty sharing feelings, extreme reactions to normal situations, anger and anxiety, cycles of abusive relations, approval seeking, etc.

Counselors often say that “Trauma trumps all”. They mean that there are clear indicators that trauma affects every area of your life. If you have not dealt with your baggage it is very likely that you are not living the life you were meant to live. I meet people all the time who have been carrying around this garbage for years, for decades, who believe that there is no choice but to stuff their hurts and try to cope the best they can. While this may work for some, it didn’t work for me. Maybe it isn’t working for you either.

If you are weighed down by a backpack of abuse, neglect, and pain you need to know that there is hope. Working through your issues may be hard but it can lead to hope and liberation. You don’t have to spend the rest of your life reeling from the hurts of your past, no matter the issue.

Talk to someone. Find a friend or colleague that understands and empathizes. Or better yet go see a counselor that doesn’t suck. You can do it.

You’re worth it.

The Panic Attack

I met Kate (not her real name) one morning during my turn at Intake. She came to me after having a panic attack in the local mall. She was walking by a kiosk and the next thing Kate knew she was on the ground in the fetal position. She asked her doctor what she should do and he gave her an anxiety medication, a sleeping med, something for depression, and a benzodiazepine for her panic attacks. She was medicated and ready to go.

But she kept having panic attacks.

She went to her psychiatrist who adjusted her medications (perhaps a stronger dosage would do the trick) and sent her on the way.

She came to see me – frustrated, despondent, defeated and deflated. A couple of weeks later she dumped most of the meds and surprise, she wasn’t having panic attacks anymore. So what happened?

I know I’m not that good. I am constantly surprised that people have amazing turnarounds after a few months of counseling. Nothing on the outside may have changed much, so why the turnaround?

When people get depressed or are battling anxiety they are usually told to go out and do a bunch of things – go for walks, work out, cut out caffeine, take medications, socialize more, etc. While these are good ideas and may eventually help, have you ever tried to ask a depressed person to go for a regular walk? They came into that office feeling depressed and a few days later, after being unable to get out of bed and go for the magical exercise routine, they are still depressed and now can point to yet another failure.

The secret is – it’s not just about what you do. It’s about changing your mind, not just your routine. The bible says -“As a person thinks, so they are” (I take truth wherever I find it). Cognitive Behavioural Therapy says it this way, ‘change your mind and your ass will follow‘ (ok, maybe it’s just me that says it that way).

It’s not about going for a walk, as good an idea as that may be. It’s about changing the way you think, addressing your own cognitive distortions about life (calling your own bullshit), and learning how take control of your thoughts and emotions.

So we talked about her panic attack. We figured out the “window of opportunity” for dealing with her oncoming attack. She learned what panic attacks were, and how her subconscious was directing her. We talked about a few options that seemed incredibly simple to learn. She practiced… and practiced. She documented her attacks and we talked again.

And things changed.

Panic attacks are not incurable. Neither is depression or anxiety. They just may take a great deal of work to conquer.

I’ll be dealing with this issue in further posts and with specifics for my email subscribers. Watch for my upcoming post, “Anxiety is curable, but it’s probably more work than you are prepared to do.

And oh ya, hire a counselor that doesn’t suck… (I can also tell you how to find that person).

So You’ve Been Depressed For 20 Years, Are You Done Yet?

DepressionI counsel literally hundreds of people each year who are battling depression. While there is clear evidence that some depression is biological in nature, most, by far the vast majority, of cases I work with are people who, at least at one time, had a situation that sparked the emotional decline. This is called, captain obvious, ‘situational depression‘, or lingering adjustment disorder. Untreated, or treated incorrectly, this often slides into a Major Depressive Disorder, or MDD.

Someone died, you developed chronic pain or Fibromyalgia, you lost your job, your partner ran away with that idiot from your church, you have grown up with criticism or insecurity, you were abused. Life has kicked you down and kept you there. Trust me, I am sympathetic in spite of the title. But it’s about time someone called it like it is.

Depression shouldn’t be a terminal illness. You shouldn’t have to take antidepressants for forty years because you can never truly live again. But so many of us do and it’s ridiculous.

You’ve been sold a lie. Maybe it was your doctor or your psychiatrist or your uncle Biff but for some reason you think you have to live with depression, cope with this demon for the rest of your life. After all, didn’t your mom and your grandmother and all your relatives back to Foofoo The Wonder Ape have depression?

I hear this from new clients and patients all the time.

The problem with most of psychiatry is that they simply don’t have the time to counsel you until you can get better. They get paid by the number of patients they see every day – they work on commission. It’s a lot easier to just throw some SSRI your way and book another appointment in a month. I work at a medical clinic and the shear volume of need is simply overwhelming. The reality looks very little like the perceptions of psychiatry in popular culture (Analyze This, Lie to Me, Good Will Hunting, What About Bob? etc.)

And don’t get me started on crappy counselors. Every week I hear about abuse and basic incompetency over and over again. Going to school or taking a course doesn’t make you a good counselor any more than eating a salad makes you a carrot. I’ve said it before and I’ll keep saying it until someone pays attention – most counselors suck!

Fortunately there are some counselors out there who understand about depression and are willing to try to move you beyond a life of bondage. I hope I am considered one of those people. Using a combination of current and evolving evidence-based therapies, sometimes in combination with medications, hundreds and thousands of people are finding hope and relief, as well as an opportunity to become a “normie” once again.

Don’t settle for a life of depression and hopelessness. I will be addressing this at length with my email subscribers and offering some practical information that WORKS.

Oh ya, and hire a counselor who doesn’t suck… (which I will help you with).