FREE Tip of the Month!

Feeling Pissed Off? Frustrated? Overwhelmed? Try a 5-4-3-2-1!

Like I said, I’ll give this one to you free of charge. It’s a neat little trick that I have personally used to battle road rage (yes, even therapists get angry sometimes!) or even just when I’m nervous, like in a doctor’s office or job interview. It’s a technique designed to use both sides of our brains, therefore shifting our focus from that which is making us angry, frustrated, etc., onto something else. By the end of the practice, if you have REALLY concentrated on it, then you should feel relaxed and renewed.

Let me tell you a story about how this works: I once worked with a family, mainly a 12-year-old boy that we can call “Billy”. Billy had a great sense of humor and a LOT of rage. When he was raging, he would tear up Kleenex boxes, throw things, or sometimes even punch holes in the walls. He had been through therapy so many times that he was almost more therapy savvy than myself and he would often say to me, jokingly: “Ann, would you like to know how I FEEL about that?” and then laugh.

So this one day, he was in the midst of a rage. His mother and sister looked on in frustration as he paced around the room and began kicking and throwing things. I said: “Billy, let’s play a game! I’ll bet you can’t win at it”, which, of course, intrigued him, as he was a highly intelligent lad as well. He agreed and we began. I instructed him to name 5 things in the room he could see. He looked at me like I was crazy. “OK,” he laughed. “TV, curtains, couch, rug, dog”. “Great”, I said. “Now name me 5 things you can hear”. This is where it starts getting difficult. “The TV, the dog licking its butt…” Again, laughter. Then he began to struggle and that’s where his mom, sister and I began to help him out. He immediately and proudly continued. “Oh, and my sister tapping her nails on the table, mom clearing her throat and you clicking your tongue!” “Very good, Billy!” I beamed. “Now name me 5 things you can feel, physically.”

He had to think about this one, too. “The carpet under my feet…The shirt on my back…My glasses on my face…” He had to think harder and get more creative. He reached out and touched the coffee table and named that, then reached over to touch the TV and then named that. He became annoyed when I asked him then to name FOUR things he could see, not repeating any from before. “See? I told you you probably wouldn’t be able to win at this game”, I teased (It’s OK, we had that kind of rapport). This spurred him on in full force. So he continued to name FOUR things he could see, FOUR things he could hear, and FOUR things he could feel, without naming the same things as before. When he finished with that, we went down to 3, then 2, then finally to 1.

By the end of this exercise, he was laying on the floor, calmly and peacefully, like a little angel. So I said to him, jokingly, “So Billy, how do you feel about that?” And he grinned because he knew I had “got” him, laughed, and said “Calm”. Well then. I guess I DO know my stuff sometimes.

So just a run down: Name 5 things you see, 5 things you hear, 5 things you feel physically. When you’re done with that, go down to 4, without repeating. Then 3, then 2, then 1. Nine times out of 10, IF you really focus, you will feel calmer and more at peace. And we could ALL use some of that!

Getting The Love You Want

Three things I want you to know:  1) Your relationship does not have to suck, 2) You actually do deserve the relationship you have always wanted, and 3) You actually can have the relationship you have always wanted.  Don’t believe me?  Say that whole first sentence aloud 3 times…does it seem a little more real now?  Don’t worry; keep saying it and it will.

Think about it logically. Why do you continue to tell yourself that you can’t have a good relationship?  Why do you continue to tell yourself that it only happens for other people?  Why should you be left out? Your mind might be coming up with a litany of reasons, but they are all really just negative self-evaluations based upon opinion rather than fact.

One thing I have learned in my 15 years of clinical practice is, if you are not in a relationship, there is a reason for it and you are the reason.  Somewhere, somehow, in the deep, dark recesses of your mind you are pushing potential, or current, mates away.  You know it’s true. If you are in a relationship that is not the relationship you want, there is also a reason for it, and yes, you are most likely the reason for that too.

If you are in a relationship that is not working well, you can transform your relationship by following these steps:

  • Make a commitment to never yell or call your partner names. Ever.
  • Make a commitment to make no disparaging or negative comments about your partner to friends, family, or in public.
  • Don’t tell your partner “how he or she is” or what is wrong with him/her
  • Stop talking and listen
  • Monitor how much time you spend during any given day focusing on what is wrong with your partner and/or relationship.  If it is more than a few seconds a day, it is too much.  Instead focus on what you like about your relationship/partner.  People live up to our expectations of them.  If you focus on what is right about your partner/relationship, you are liable to get more of it.

If you are not in a relationship and want to be in one, transform your life by following these steps:

  • Monitor your thinking about yourself, dating, your potential dating pool, etc.  If your thoughts are consumed with negativity and fear, it is the reason why you are single.  Make a commitment to think positively about dating and your possibilities.  Stop programming your mind by repeating phrases like “All men are pigs.”, or “All the good ones are taken.”
  • Stop looking at dating as a chore.  If you can’t get excited about it, at least try to see it as a means to an end…like college.
  • I used to tell my clients, “Mr. Right will never come knocking on your door, so get off the couch”, until a client of mine, who spent an a lot of time home alone, got involved with the guy who came to fix his cable.  True story.  They are still together, as far as I know.  So, now I say, “Never give up.  Anything is possible.”

Don’t believe me that any of this will actually work?  Have you tried it?  Go ahead and give it a try and come back to me and let me know how it worked.  It’s ok, I’ll wait. 🙂

Embrace Life’s Problems, rather than resisting them

Life is about problems. Period. Get used to it. Every day, whether you realize it or not, you spend most of your day confronting, and hopefully, solving problems. Most of us get tired of problem-solving. The whole activity often leaves us feeling overwhelmed and incapable, prompting us to unleash our inner 7-year-old and engage in avoidant behaviors, like procrastination, overeating, over-drinking, over spending, drugs, etc.

The problem is not the amount of problems we have, whether or not we have the talent, skills, and abilities to solve those problems, or the fact that we have problems at all. The problem is we want things to be different. We dream of a problem-free life, where every day exists to indulge our pleasures and fantasies, and we never have to worry about anything again.

Ain’t gonna happen. Ever. We would be much better served to accept that fact that every day there will be problems and challenges to face and that life is really just one big educational experience in which the main goal is to continually work on becoming a better problem-solver and life manager.

To help people get more used to this reality, I’ve developed an exercise that provides people with a road map for problem solving. I call it the “WAC” (pronounced “whack”) format. When faced with a problem, you only have three options at solving the problem: Walk away from the situation completely, Accept the situation for what it is, or Change the situation so that the problem is solved to your satisfaction. Hence W-A-C, or WAC.

This is the underlying guide for every single problem you can possibly face. It is not as hard to employ as it seems. The issue most people face, and what really makes most of life’s problems seem overwhelming and impossible is that we typically prefer to employ a fourth option, which is to complain about the problem, wish things would automatically be different without any effort on our parts, and/or someone else would come along and fix it for us.

We can go through our entire lives deluding ourselves into thinking that someday, maybe someday; this fourth “option” will actually prove to be the saving grace that makes our lives problem free. Some people go to unbelievable lengths, and spend an unbelievable amount on energy in the hopes of making it true. It just won’t work and always ends up in avoidant behaviors, feeling stressed out, overwhelmed, and having mental health symptoms like depression, anxiety, worry, stress, fear, etc.

You do have the talent, skills, and abilities to handle any problem that comes your way. Even you if don’t immediately know the solution, I can guarantee that someone around you does. You don’t have to know all the answers. You just have to be willing to face the problem head on.

Don’t resist life’s problems, embrace them. Honestly, to do anything else is just plan whack.

Benchmarking 1.2

In 1991, ten years prior to my working at ground zero, I was also in New York City. It was my first time being there, and while I was excited about going, it really wasn’t my decision to do go. My boyfriend at the time had begged me to take him to New York. He wanted to go back to visit, because he used to live there. The entire time of our relationship prior to that, he always talked about New York City. How much fun he had living there. How much he missed it. My most prominent memory of that trip was how miserable and depressed I was. I quickly found out that he had decided to look up all his old boyfriends during our visit, while he persuaded a platonic friend to show me around town. His friend’s name was David too, and he was a nice enough to show me around, but I was so completely miserable. I was totally in love with my boyfriend, but this trip was yet another example of me feeling utterly used and unloved in this relationship. While sightseeing, David and I went to the Metropolitan Museum and wandered around when I found this amazing room. It was a round room with a dais in the middle of it. Completely covering the walls was a 360 degree mural of the gardens of Versailles. The perspective from the dais is standing at the top of the cement stairs that go down to the main gardens and reflecting pool, with the palace behind you. It is a replica of your real view if you were actually standing there. It is a remarkable and beautiful painting. For some reason I could not figure out, I was completely enthralled with this room and sat down on the dais, looking all around. I was thinking about my life. What a piece of crap it had become. Here I was, in New York City for the first time. It should be one of the most exciting days ever, but I could only think about this horrible relationship I was in where we fought all the time where it often became physical. Now he was off doing who knows what, with who knows who, and I’m hanging out with some guy I just met yesterday all on a trip for two being completely financed by me. Now I need to point out, that I was 26 years old, I typically ran five miles every day, so I was thin and gorgeous, and because I was in the military, I was making pretty good money for someone with only a high school education. But that’s the point. I had everything to live for, but because I couldn’t see any positives inside me, I was ready to spend the rest of my life in a horrible relationship with someone who didn’t respect and/or appreciate me.

I got better.

Fast forward 10 years later, 2001. I am in NYC working at Ground Zero. I went up to the MET one day and immediately looked for that room. It’s almost if I wanted to share with it how much my life had changed since that dark day in 1991. I stood on the dais and took a deep breath in. As I exhaled, I became really excited as I connected that just six months earlier, in March, my husband and I took our first trip to Paris and I actually stood in this very spot that the dais represents: at the top of the cement stairs going down to the main gardens and reflecting pool.

Some times when we are in the middle of miserable, it seems most certain that things will never change and there is no way out. I was certainly convinced of that in 1991. I’m glad it didn’t stay that way, but I also can say that it wouldn’t have happened without me taking some sort of action for my own life. Misery, depression, loneliness, hurt, fear, and anxiety are all feelings that tend to freeze both our minds and bodies, and fool us into thinking that to do nothing is the safest way to avoid more of the same. THAT IS A LIE! When I finally ended that relationship, I was convinced I was making the biggest mistake of my life. No one else would ever want me, so the devil I know is better than the devil I don’t. This is also a lie. The urge to stay put, take no action, do nothing in the hopes of not disturbing the tiger that is your dark mood is the worst possible mistake you can make for yourself. You don’t have to have all the answers, you just need to act.

It is now 10 years after 2001, 20 years after that dark day in 1991, and my wonderful husband of 17 years and I are going to NYC this month for Pride. I hope we will go to the MET. I want to show him off to the room.

Benchmarking 1.0

Welcome To my Blog!

I wanted to start this blog to discuss ideas regarding mental health in general, information about seeking treatment, the different areas I specialize in, and my philosophy about life in general.

With the military operation against Osama Bin Laden that took place this month, my thoughts have been automatically been drawn back to the September 11th Terrorist Attacks, but even more so, about how my life has changed in the last 10 years.

I’ve always thought of myself as a pretty regular guy just trying to make it in the world, with no special talents or skills, but when I think back over the last 10 years, I’ve been very lucky to have had some incredible experiences and opportunities.  On September 11th, 2001, I was actually working on a grant review for the Department of Health and Human Services in D.C.  Much like in NYC, Tuesday, September 11th was an extraordinarily beautiful morning, not a cloud in the sky.  It looked to be like any other day working for the Office of Program Review, reading, reading, and more reading through grant applications.  After the attacks happened, the cell phone networks were overloaded and shut down and no one here in Orlando, or my family in Houston, could get a hold of me to see if I was ok.  Actually, I was on the complete other side of town from the Pentagon and in no danger.  Ironically, that week we were reviewing grant applications for programs treating children with traumatic stress.

Once I got home, I figured that story would be my only tie to the terrorist attacks.  It just so happened I had recently completed the certification to become a mental health responder for disasters for the American Red Cross, because my boss at the Mental Health Association thought it would be a good idea for all of the counselors to be crisis response certified.  Of course, it resulted in my being asked to go to New York City.  My boss wanted me to go, and I did.  I spent 3 weeks at WTC Ground Zero in October and November of 2001 working with the NYPD, FDNY, and construction workers at “The Pile”, which is what they called the work area in and around the collapsed buildings.

I think I could write a book about that experience alone, but it is not my particular point of this blog.  That period of time is a benchmark for me.  When I think back over those last 10 years, I can see so many changes. I was just finishing my Ph.D., I was still so unschooled in a lot of ways about the practice of therapy (although I thought I was pretty smart, lol), and I figured I would always be working at the Mental Health Association, because there didn’t seem to be any reason to leave.

Since then, I have worked in a residential treatment facility, served as the mental health team supervisor of an HIV/AIDS medical clinic, conducted in-home assessments for the State’s child welfare system, served as board president for the local GLBT chamber of commerce, served as board president for what is now the biggest GLBT Pride event in Florida, and built a very healthy private practice, of which I am immensely proud, all the while getting to meet some of the most interesting and inspiring people:  my clients.  I have really been all over the place professionally, trying to figure out what I’m going to do when I grow up.  Some days that gets me down. On those days when I don’t feel like I’m at my best, I try to remember what I’ve accomplished, instead of focusing on the problems.  That’s what I call benchmarking.

I remember benchmarking as being one of the first therapeutic techniques I learned that I really responded to, and began teaching my clients.  We typically spend too much thinking about what has gone, is going, and will go wrong, but not enough time thinking about what valuable things we’ve learned from those experiences and what has actually gone right.  Some days it is harder than others, but I think you have to look at it as skill development.  It is the rare person that can learn to ride a bike of the first try.  Things get better with practice.  The more you practicing indentifying and benchmarking the successes or positive moments in your life, the better you get at it.   Which reminds me of a story… (to be concluded in the next post, Benchmarking 1.2)