Don’t be afraid to be different!

As a therapist, I have found myself becoming increasingly frustrated with where this profession, the profession which I love is headed.

I was previously “forced” to be a member of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) in order to get my liability insurance renewed. This was rescinded the following year I am hoping as a result of what I can only imagine are the numerous complaints which this organization has received. The last time I was a member of this organization was sometime in the early 90’s. I didn’t know what they did for social workers then and I still don’t know what they do for social workers. I remain on an email list and smile when I read the headings of the content. The majority of the content starts with “What social workers should think about…..” No thank you. I am very capable of thinking on my own and no I am not interested in who was identified as “Social Worker of the Year.”

I was raised to believe as Steve Jobs had said: “Think Different.” I love my approach to change as do my clients. It works. No fancy bullshit just real, honest feedback.

I was a fan of Charles Bukowski long before it was “cool.” I love Quentin Tarantino movies and other artists who are willing to risk thinking outside the box.

These people are/were game changers. They wouldn’t think twice about coloring outside the lines and breaking the rules.

Ya want to get better? Break the rules!


Pavlov on-call

I’m sure most everyone knows who Ivan Pavlov was. If you don’t recall the name or perhaps have never heard the name, certainly you recall the experiment he did with dogs. The experiment is often and simply known as “Pavlov’s dogs.” During the 1890s Russian physiologist, Ivan Pavlov was looking at salivation in dogs in response to being fed, when he noticed that his dogs would begin to salivate whenever he entered the room, even when he was not bringing them food.

Image result for ivan pavlov

As a designee on the crisis services team with which I work, I am required to be on call one week approximately every other month. The on call time period begins at 5 PM Friday and goes through 9 AM the following Monday. It then continues throughout the week at 5 PM and expires the next morning at 9 AM. The last day is Friday at 9 AM.

During this time period, I become one of Pavlov’s dogs. Every time my cell phone rings, I am overcome by a sense of dread. I am afraid to look at the caller ID. Minimally it is a response to one of the phone aides and at its most involved It involves me going into the community to meet with the person who made the call to Crisis Services. This means the thought of making any plans become tainted by the thought that “I have to be anywhere in the county within 30-45-minutes.” Dinner in a restaurant is out. If we attend a family gathering I need to drive separately from my family. Movies in a theatre are out of the question. The other day as I was walking into a store with my daughter and grandson to purchase a bike for him, my phone rang. Before I even pulled it from my pocket, the thought of “Oh Fuck!” crossed my mind. After pulling the phone from the depths of my pocket, I tentatively looked at the screen and found it was only my son.

It’s Thursday evening and I finish this on-call tomorrow morning at 9 AM. I don’t mind the on-call but I’d be lying if I told you I’m happy to have it completed. There have been periods of time earlier in the week when there have been no calls and I have wondered if/when the phone will ring. The same will be true tonight until 9 AM tomorrow when I can breathe a sigh of relief.

What sometimes surprises me is I know all of this. As a social worker, I know about anxiety, how to respond to it proactively and what I do myself to increase anxiety. yet, like many other people, I can find myself neglecting what is important and going on autopilot. I have written about auto pilot before and while it can be a good thing, it can cause tremendous stress when we fail to look around us and keep tabs on our speed, direction, etc.

It’s that time again. I return to “on-call” status this Friday. Wish me good luck.


How to Feel Happier During an Unhappy Time

This is republished from Gretchen Rubin.

Sometimes, it’s not possible — or at least not easy — to feel happy. However, it’s sometimes possible to feel happier. Here are some strategies to consider:

1. Remind yourself of reasons to be grateful. When things look really dark, it’s hard to feel grateful, but remembering what’s good in your life can help put problems into perspective. I have a friend who recently suffered a big disappointment at work. She said to me, “As long as my family is healthy, I can’t get too upset about anything.”

2. Remember your body. Take a twenty-minute walk outside to boost your energy and dissolve stress. Don’t let yourself get too hungryGet enough sleep. Manage pain. It’s very tempting to run yourself ragged trying to deal with a crisis, but in the long run, you just wear yourself out.

3. Do something fun. Temporarily distract yourself from the stress, and re-charge your battery, with an enjoyable activity. Watching a funny movie is a reliable way to give yourself a pleasant break, and listening to your favorite music is one of the quickest ways to change your mood. When my older daughter was in the intensive-care unit as a newborn, my husband dragged me off to a movie one afternoon — and that few hours of distraction made me much better able to cope with the situation. Be careful, however, not to “treat” yourself by doing something that’s eventually going to make you feel worse (taking up smoking again, drinking too much, indulging in retail therapy). My comfort-food activity is reading children’s literature.

4. Take action. If you’re in a bad situation, take steps to bring about change. If you’re having trouble with your new boss, you could decide to try to transfer. Or you could change your behavior. Or you could find ways to pay less attention to your boss. Ask yourself, “What exactly is the problem?” It’s astounding to me that often, when I take time to identify a problem exactly, a possible solution presents itself.

5. Look for meaning. Re-frame an event to see the positive along with the negative. Maybe getting fired will give you the push you need to move to the city where you’ve always wanted to live. Maybe your illness has strengthened your relationships with your family. You don’t need to be thankful that something bad has happened, but you can try to find positive consequences even in a catastrophic event. Here are some examples.

6. Connect with friends and family. Strong relationships are a KEY to happiness, so fight the impulse to isolate yourself. Show up. Make plans. Ask for help, offer your help to others.

7. Make something better. If something in your life has gotten worse, try to make something else better – and it doesn’t have to be something important. Clean a closet. Organize your photographs. Work in the yard.

8. Act toward other people the way you wish they’d act toward you. If you wish your friends would help you find someone to date, see if you can fix up a friend. If you wish people would help you find a job, see if you can help someone else find a job. If you can’t think of a way to help someone you know, do something generous in a more impersonal way. For instance: commit to being an organ donor! When you’re feeling very low, it can be hard to muster the energy to help someone else, but you’ll be amazed at how much better you feel. Do good, feel good; it really works.

By taking whatever steps you can, you give yourself a deeper reservoir to deal with your happiness challenge. What other strategies have you used to make yourself happier during an unhappy time?

The Gospel of Nature

I greet you with hands clasped together in gratitude.

I am here.

I stopped by the Niagara River this evening with my journal in hand. I needed to see the sunset, to feel the warmth of the sun’s rays, to feel the breeze and listen to the sound of crickets as their music entertains my ears. Those things are integral to me and to my ability to feel grounded in the insanity with which we define our world.

In between peeks at the setting sun, I was reading an essay by John Burroughs called, “The Gospel of Nature.” I am struggling to maintain my focus as I read, the sounds of nature are overpowering but in a good way.


“I go to nature to be soothed and healed and to have my senses put in order.
A man can fail many times, but he isn’t a failure until he begins to blame somebody else.
Leap and the net will appear.” – John Burroughs

Recently we experienced a full moon, a Supermoon. The brilliance of the light reflected will provide enough light to continue to read but I decide against continuing to read and instead focus on my breath. I time my breath with the sound of water lapping at the shoreline.


Stop Bitching! Part II

I greet this day with hands clasped together in gratitude. Today I am grateful today for many things. They are truly too numerous to mention and this post isn’t about what I’m grateful for, it’s about you recognizing what you’re grateful for in your life.

I have been thinking a lot about what I have been hearing on the news lately. I am not going to get into those issues as they are far too large for me to deal with and I am not interested in starting what would ultimately be a partisan conflict that would not have an end in sight. Everyone today feels they know the answers. I am not alone in the world of opinions and I am not one of the individuals who feels as though they know everything. I do, like everyone else have an opinion and if you know the saying about opinions you will again understand why I won’t go there. If you don’t know the saying about opinions, here it is: “Opinions are like assholes…everyone’s got one.”

What I will get into is a take off from my post one month earlier and that has to do with the bitching and complaining I hear every day, mostly from those who will not take even one step in the direction of looking at their behavior which has resulted in both direct and indirect decision. Those same individuals are the one who refuse to believe they have any ability to make changes in their life and instead blame others. I almost got into the whole black lives matter, blue lives matter, etc., etc., etc. I also run into those individuals who ask for help, direction, etc. and still refuse to take the steps they need. We live in a culture where bitching, complaining, whining, etc. is accepted if not encouraged. If you didn’t before understand the wild success of platforms such as Facebook, you do now!

I have been in a little bit of a funk recently. I hurt my knee and running without pain and the concern about doing further damage has helped me to make a decision which I believe is in my best interest. I don’t like the decision and I want to get back to running…without pain and the fear of doing more damage. Therefore I made the decision, without bitching and complaining that best works for me. One of the questions I ask is “When did it become ok to not make a decision and to just sit back and complain?” This isn’t for me to anser…yet. I will go there in the book on which I am working but this is a question which each of us needs to answer for ourselves.

The decision not to run was a relatively difficult one to make as we are in the middle of my favorite time of year. For me, there is not much which rivals getting up at 4 AM, putting on a pair of shorts and running shoes, setting my watch and heading out the door for a run. There is no knit hat, no gloves, no tights, jacket etc. On the other hand, for the reasons which I mentioned, this was also an easy one to make.

I have used my meditation practice to be mindful of the fact that I have choices in my life. I feel sad for those individuals who refuse to believe they have choices. We all have choices. They may not seem like good choices, but they are choices nonetheless. I feel sad for those individuals who thumb their nose at interventions such as counseling and instead take the easy way out…medication. Medication can be a remarkable tool to help decrease some of the symptoms we experience, but they are in no way an answer in and of themselves. We are afraid to “go into counseling.” We believe if we “go into counseling we will “get the answers” to our problems. The answers to our problems are within us and we should be using counseling as a type of sounding board but not for the answers. I have patients who do see me looking for answers and when they feel they are “not getting help” because “counseling doesn’t work” are the same ones who leave counseling complaining.

Look within yourself. The answers, despite your belief they are not, are inside you. Ask for help. Ask for direction, just don’t ask to be given the answers. This is a powerful part of the counseling transformation and believe it or not can be a fun part of seeking therapy.


It has been difficult…

With palms together,

I wish you all a Good afternoon

I woke this morning feeling physically and emotionally drained from a work week which left me, or should I say “I allowed the week to drain from me the energy which I need to live a happy, joyous life.” My weekly long run has moved from Saturday to Sunday more out of necessity than of choice.

My new job has left me with questions. There have been more questions than answers. This I can live with as I know the answers are there. Perhaps I am looking to hard and my expectations too great.

The biggest question has been “Do I want to do this anymore?”The first question is “What is this?” This is my career in Social Work. I LOVE meeting with patients and I LOVE the art of counseling and therapy. This job, not unlike others in the past is purely administrative. What I have been exposed to so far has left me speechless and wondering. Like the Seven Wonders of the World, I have been wondering if I want these responsibilities any longer.

My new best friend, in addition to the increase in stress and general unhappiness, has been a blood pressure monitor. While high blood pressure genetically runs in my family and despite running 30-plus miles every week, my blood pressure has been of concern; so much so I have been contemplating contacting my doctor to discuss medication. Medication is not a choice which I wish to pursue but experiencing a stroke is even less tasteful.

I want to believe I have a solid self-care plan which, in addition to my running includes daily meditation. These items in my plan have not been enough to counter my concerns. There appears to be no end in sight for the stress which I have been feeling. The coming week should if my prediction is accurate should bring with it an increase in stress levels which may force me to make decisions or at least a decision.

As I write this piece, I sit in one of the places where stress cannot reach me. It is the one place which actually energizes me and helps me to recharge my batteries and balance the scales. This is a place where finding joy is an easy task. If anyone has guessed, it is the outdoors. I have been walking for over an hour and thoughts of writing have been pouring out of me, so much so I found myself stopping, pulling a notebook from my pocket and writing down these thoughts. I am also reminded that there is no stress with me. My posture has improved as has the weight on my shoulders.

I reached my destination, remove my pack and begin to furiously scribble my thoughts. Happiness returns. For fun, I remove the blood pressure monitor which I allowed to accompany me on this hike. I place it on my wrist and press the start button. The whir of the electronics causes the cuff to tighten and begin to measure my blood pressure. The unit beeps indicating it has completed its task and I cautiously look at the results; well within normal ranges. The only other time during the week has been upon waking and upon returning from a run.

The thought of resigning flashes through my head as it does several times each day. A letter with Thoreau wrote to Harrison Blake on November 16, 1857, said, “It is not enough to be industrious; so are the ants. What are you industrious about? This resonates with me as I feel once the key has been retracted from the door of my office and I have entered my office that I have stepped upon a treadmill not to get off until the workday has come to an unofficial end. I say “unofficial” because we reside in a society where leaving the office by 5 PM is often frowned upon and sometimes viewed as a weakness. This belief, in the past had left me with pangs of guilt. It now leaves me with a smile as I speed away from the building which houses my office and to leave it for another day. This treadmill of which I speak seems as all treadmills are to be never ending. Many days pass by with me wondering what I have even accomplished as most days there is nothing measurable but the deep waters over which I have traveled.

Almost as if on cue, a dark cloud passes overhead; the breeze which was cooling now increases and raindrops begin to fall. It’s not going to rain but it is enough to ensure I have cover. Within minutes, the sun begins to again make an appearance. This is my typical workday; cloudy with a chance of sun. The moments of sunshine are synonymous with the time during the day when stress feels less and I find myself smiling and thinking, “This isn’t too bad. I can do this.”

None of us ever wants to admit we are powerless over what happens throughout the day. We are however not powerless over our responses. Choosing to react or respond requires energy. It is this energy which we so willingly choose to give away to others by blaming them for our life situations and life stressors. None of us accepts it is the behavior and attitudes which we choose to respond which will indicate the energy which we have remaining. Amazingly, none of us would be willing to share a morsel of food or a few dollars with another but we are all willing to give others complete and total control over our minds, our responses and more importantly, our happiness.

Decisions will need to be made. My health and happiness are far too important to be impacted by a paycheck…

In Thoreau’s last letter to Myron Benton in 1862, he says, “You ask particularly after my health. I suppose that I have not many months to live; but of course, I know nothing about it. I may add that I am enjoying existence as much as ever, and regret nothing. My desire is to regret nothing and herein lies the decision which will need to be made.


“I’m depressed”

I’m sure I’m going to get some slack for this post…it is what it is. This post is meant to start a conversation but a conversation which should be had with your doctor and preferably with a psychiatrist AND a therapist. The latter two are entities which are often neglected and overlooked. Depression is in fact a disease what I will be discussing is the all to common way we use the term, “I’m depressed.”

This post is also not meant to be a diagnostic tool. This post is meant to cause discussion and hopefully cause some to look within at their lives and learn to control what they can, let go of what they cannot and as the Serenity Prayer states, “to learn to know the difference.”

True depression is no joke and should not ever be confused with the ups and down which are naturally occurring in life. There are stressors beyond our realm of control and there are those not only within our realm of control but often caused by our own actions such as posts we make on Facebook or the time we decided to drink too much and drive causing our arrest.

I’m depressed. I hear this stated several times each day, every day. Of course I’m a therapist and I’m supposed to hear this statement everyday. The problem is most people who make this statement are not depressed. Most aren’t even sad. They have on the other hand been perhaps dealt a bad hand but more than likely we simply haven’t received what we thought we were due.

I grew up in the sixties and don’t recall hearing this statement. To be fair, those individuals who were legitimately suffering from depression never told anyone and probably didn’t seek help. There certainly weren’t any television commercials touting the symptoms of depression and suggesting you go and see your doctor because you needed medication.

My dad was born in 1939. He was born with polio, retired for medical reasons in 1990 and today at the age of 76 is unable to walk. His legs will not support his weight and his only mode of transportation is a battery-powered scooter. I recall my dad telling me about a specific conversation his father had had with him. He said, “Don, you’re going to get up everyday and decide what kind of day you’re going to have and how you’re going to allow people to treat you. If you want to be treated like a victim then be a victim.” My father reminded me of this story when I complained about not wanting to go to school, how I was being bullied or the math test which I tried in vain to avoid.

Today we live in a society where the value system shared by many is one of complaining how bad my life is. There is no end to the support groups and self-help books which remind us how resilient we can be and how we all have the tools to be successful in life.

For my therapy career which has spanned almost 30-years, I have always referred to the self-help genre as “feel good” books. We purchase said books, read said books and we feel better…for anywhere from a few days to a few months. Because we usually change nothing but expect miracles to happen we are ultimately disappointed in the book and its author. We write a negative review on, tell others not to waste their money and go on feeling, in many cases sorry for ourselves. We visit our doctor and tell him/her we haven’t been sleeping/eating well and that we “feel depressed.” We leave the office with a prescription for a medication which often not only has side effects but does not work effectively because we do not have a true diagnosis of depression.

What is depression? Below are the symptoms of depression:
Sadness or depressed mood most of the day or almost every day
Loss of enjoyment in things that were once pleasurable
Major change in weight (gain or loss of more than 5% of weight within a month) or appetite
Insomnia or excessive sleep almost every day
Physical restlessness or sense of being rundown that is noticeable by others
Fatigue or loss of energy almost every day
Feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness or excessive guilt almost every day
Problems with concentration or making decisions almost every day
Recurring thoughts of death or suicide, suicide plan, or suicide attempt
Five (or more) of the following symptoms have been present during the same 2-week period and represent a change from previous functioning; at least one of the symptoms is either (1) depressed mood or (2) loss of interest or pleasure.

If you have any of these symptoms, schedule an appointment with your doctor AND a therapist. It’s important to address any underlying causes of depression. In future posts I’ll cover Adjustment Disorders and Major Depression.