Grieving Body Changes

Whether from aging, medical treatment, or an accident, our bodies change. Like other forms of grief, the story we tell ourselves about how and why these changes happened is the source of our peace or distress.

Body changes are often our most public changes. When we start a new habit or learn a new language, others can’t tell just by looking. But the people around us take notice when chemotherapy leads to hair loss, an accident takes an arm, or aging makes us need glasses at work.

Medical treatments can cause some of the most extreme body changes. Treatments may cause us to gain or lose a significant amount of weight, we may lose a limb or an eye, we may lose our reproductive capability. Even when these treatments were medically necessary and we understand logically that this was the best path, we still grieve these losses.

Aging-related changes can be difficult to accept, particularly in cultures that value youth and appearance over age and wisdom. Even though we all know that we will age every year, some people fight hard against the reality of growing older.

Accidents are the most likely to result in complicated grief for the simple reason that they are not something we might choose (like medical treatment) or reasonably foresee (like aging). And accidents often have someone to blame, whether that’s yourself or someone else.

Blaming narratives lead us down a path of grief that is likely to keep us stuck in a vicious cycle of negativity. Blame helps us hold onto anger at the person or situation that caused our grief and keeps us away from taking productive action toward the present and future.

Grief that keeps us stuck in the past can be resolved through work around changing your story of what happened and why. Even when someone is clearly at fault, your narrative needs to incorporate the facts in a way that acknowledges what happened while still allowing you to accept your present reality so that you can continue to create your life moving forward. We need to balance our natural desire to know the reason for our suffering with the fact that there are some things we need to accept that we will never fully know.

As you notice the changes in your body, try to also notice the thoughts you have surrounding the changes. Notice if you are worried what others might think, if you are missing your ability to do a particular activity, or if you tend to blame someone in particular for your loss. This noticing allows you to begin to be aware of the narrative your mind has already created about the situation. These narratives are instinctively formed from your past experiences and your emotions. Notice with compassion and non-judgment, but also notice where your automatic narrative might be creating additional problems for you.

Once you’re aware of your narrative, you can work to shift it in a way that leads you to peace and mental freedom. Your reality is the same, but your thoughts and perspective can move from a focus on the past and what you lost toward acceptance of your current situation and a hopeful future.

Clarify Your Values

Many people find it difficult to think meaningfully about their ideal life. Try this exercise instead and clarify your values by looking at things you dislike instead.

Many clarity exercises ask you to look at your ideal day, your ideal life, or your ideal partner as a way to discover your values. But that’s often not helpful. We would all like to find a way to make an excellent living while working part time and traveling the world, writing the Next Great American Novel, or being fully devoted to family.

Instead, this exercise looks at what you don’t like or don’t want as a way to discover where your values truly lie. It can be overwhelming to think of what you do want in life, but often it’s easy for us to think of things we haven’t liked. Your ideal is often nebulous and may change as you grow. But things you dislike often stay dislikes.

So here are the statements. Fill them out with sentences or bullet points, and don’t worry about how much you may put down. And once you have a picture of what you don’t like and don’t want in your life, look at how you can change your life to minimize and eliminate the things that you hate and replace them with things you don’t hate.

  1. I feel most unhappy when I…
  2. I dread …
  3. I am good at but do not particularly enjoy…
  4. I cannot imagine doing … every day for the rest of my life.
  5. I don’t understand why anybody would…
  6. … does not appeal to me.

If you want help looking at your life with a view of minimizing what you truly dislike, therapy can help you look deeper at your history of negative experiences and pull out what in particular you disliked. And therapy can help you shift your relationships at home, at work, and within yourself to shift your life away from the things you hate and toward something richer and fuller.

Contact me at 831-531-2259 or leftcoastmft@gmail.com to schedule a consultation.

When is Medicating Your Child a Good Idea?

It’s hard to know when medication is the right step for you and your child. This guide will walk you through the main issues to consider.

Mental health is a delicate balance of the holy trinity- biological, psychological, and social factors. Medication acts primarily on the biological side.

If only it were that simple. Mental health medication is still highly stigmatized. I’m sure we’ve all heard horror stories of the kid who was put on something that turned him into a blank zombie. Sure, he wasn’t bouncing off the walls anymore, but he also lost his personality.

On the other side, maybe you’ve seen the kid whose parents chose to give her only natural medicine for her ADHD. She’s completely unable to focus in class and she’s falling farther and farther behind grade level each year.

Or maybe you know a kid whose medication is helping him get through seventh grade. For the first time, he’s able to be present and participate in class. Too bad it couldn’t have happened earlier. His parents have been trying different meds and combinations since kindergarten. Between the nasty side effects and ineffective dosages, he’s been held back already, and he’s missed a lot of school.

Here are some guidelines I use when suggesting that medication might be the next step in mental health care:

  1. You’ve tried therapy. Therapy can be great. As a therapist, it’s my go-to solution. But therapy should show progress after a few months of consistent sessions with a person your kid has a good relationship with. This is why it’s important to set concrete goals with tangible benchmarks- so you’ll know if there’s change.
  2. Your child is not able to perform normal tasks of daily life without assistance at a level compared to other children of the same age. They should be able to follow a string of logical instructions- for example, asking your child to finish their bath, brush their teeth, change into pajamas, and then come tell you they’re done so you can read a story. If you need to remind your child of their tasks every few minutes, there’s a problem.
  3. They’re falling behind in school. This is the most important reason I recommend medication. Being held back affects a child’s self-esteem, their peer group, their reputation, and their sense of self-efficacy. It’s one of the most damaging and devastating experiences at that age. Many of my adult clients who have been held back listed it as a pivotal event, even as young as kindergarten.
  4. They are isolated from friends. Kids who have dramatic outbursts from ADHD, bipolar, psychosis, and other disorders tend to attract labels, and not very nice ones. This keeps them from normal social activities with peers and may make them a target for bullying- or turn them into a bully if loneliness shifts to anger.
  5. They recognize there’s a problem and want a solution. Lots of kids I’ve talked to over the years have told me they want to be able to sit down and concentrate on their work but they just can’t. This is the big difference between the class clown’s acting out and the disruptions from a mental disorder. Most children don’t want to interrupt, do poorly, or fail classes. When there’s a problem, they know.

Medication isn’t all-or-nothing. It’s possible to give your child a dosage that will take them through the school day and wear off in the evening. Many kids take medication holidays when school isn’t in session. Some kids need the additional help so they are able to try therapy and are able to stop the medication once things are under control.

But advice from the internet can only be vague. I don’t know your child or your situation. The best way to find out how medication could work for your family is to talk to someone in person.

The first person I always suggest is your pediatrician because they know your child and they know about normal child development. Doctors aren’t as well trained in mental health as a therapist or psychologist, but they can diagnose and prescribe psychiatric medication. You can ask during your child’s routine appointments, and this is usually covered by insurance.

The next person to talk to is your school’s psychologist, if your child qualifies for services through a 504 or IEP. These services are usually free through the district. Although the school psychologist won’t prescribe medication, they can assess your child, describe the diagnosis, and discuss the possibility of medicating.

The last person I recommend is a psychiatrist. This is because most communities have very few psychiatrists, so it can take months to get an initial appointment, if you can get one at all and aren’t placed on a waiting list. When you get there, the psychiatrist likely doesn’t know you or your child, so you have to explain the history of the problem. And if there are any issues with the dosage or side effects, it can be a while before you can get in for a follow up appointment.

You can talk to your regular therapist about medication too. Therapists in California are trained in psychopharmacology- knowledge of medications for mental health issues. But therapists can’t prescribe medication or even suggest medication. They’re available for you to talk about your thoughts or feelings about medicating your child, and they can help you find local referrals for doctors, psychologists, or psychiatrists.

Mindfulness through Handlettering

Combine mindfulness with beautiful brush script lettering in this easy exercise to boost memory, brain function, and awareness.

It’s no secret. Handlettering and mindfulness have both been popular for a while now.

We know that being mindful of the present moment is good for us because it helps us engage intentionally in life. Mindfulness requires attentive, intentional focus on the here and now.

I recently took a handlettering class. Creating beautiful scripts with just a brush pen is hard, harder than I expected. After all, it’s just cursive. I’ve been doing that since I was a kid. Boy, was I surprised.

Apparently, if you want to create something that looks good, it takes effort and focus. Then it hit me. Focus is the central part of both handlettering and mindfulness. Why not combine the two?

For this exercise, you’ll need three things: a brush pen (I use a Tombow calligraphy pen), some paper (regular is best), and a quote or saying that you want to meditate on.

First, warm up by writing a few words, getting used to the pen and how much pressure you need to make the lines as thick and thin as you want. There are plenty of tutorials on getting started with Tombow pens if you’ve never used one before- it’s pretty easy to start!

Next, write out your entire quote or saying. It can take a while if you’re working carefully. When you make a mistake, notice it without judgment and continue writing. Most likely, your first attempt isn’t perfect or ready for Instagram. That’s where the meditation comes it. Write it again. And again.

Set yourself a timer for this exercise. Meditating on a phrase for as little as ten minutes can be helpful. I usually work for about twenty minutes because my hands don’t like to hold the pen for too long. You can work for as much or as little time as you need, but whatever you do, let yourself finish without necessarily making everything perfect.

An added benefit of this practice is that you’ll likely memorize the quotes you work on. Memorization is good for your mind, and it’s something we don’t do as much in the modern day where our phones save all our contacts and we can look up anything we forget.

This practice helps you develop focus on the here and now through mindful meditation on the process of creating brush script art. It also helps strengthen your mind as you memorize quotes. And once you get the hang of using the pens, you have beautiful art to hang on your walls or post online!