Your Relationship With Your Depression

I often ask people what their relationship is with their depression and they usually look at me like my head is on fire. I explain that, when my depression was at its worst, I looked at it like a comfortable old slipper. If I got into an argument with my boyfriend at the time, I would throw my hands in the air, retire to my bedroom, dim all the lights, put The Cure’s “Disintegration” on repeat, and lay in bed, possibly for a whole weekend which “freed” me from having to deal with his nonsense. If I had a project due for school, forget about it. I now had a valid excuse to not have to go out to parties and be social. I looked at my depression like a long, lost friend coming into town for the night. You know shenanigans will ensue. It will be fun while it lasts, but there will be hell to pay later with the consequences.

At some point, though, I realized that I wanted to have a good relationship. I wanted to have friends and enjoy my time with them. I wanted to do well in school and get my degree. My depression was actually robbing me of all those things I claimed to want. That’s when I learned that I had to change my relationship status with my depression from “It’s Complicated” to “Divorced.

Whether you realize it or not, you have an actual relationship with your depression. Is it part of your identity? Are you comfortable with it? In love with it? If so, that’s a huge part of the problem.

I used to look at it as an ugly head that popped out of my shoulder saying things like “You’ll never be good enough,” “You can’t do that,” etc. The ugly head is still there but now it more comes out of the ground and I stifle somewhat effortlessly with my foot. Depression usually doesn’t go away or get “cured.” Mine hasn’t. But instead of EMBRACING it, I MANAGE it.

You have to be very careful with how you identify with your diagnoses. I talk to a lot of people who feel like it’s just their burden to carry and it’s never going away. If that’s your perspective, then that will be your reality.

Getting to a point where you are managing it is possible, but not easy. It requires work. A lot of people don’t want to do that work and get stuck in their diagnosis. They feel like it will never get better. Two things are required from the beginning to get through it: Hope and Belief.  You have to allow yourself to hope to get better and then believe that you can.

My journey started with changing my “relationship status,” working diligently on positive thinking and changing my mindset. I used to be a very pessimistic person and considered the glass “half empty.” I would have told you that I was just being realistic, but now I am optimistic. Your “reality” is what you choose to FOCUS on.

Hope this helps!

Things to Talk About Before Marriage

Marriage is such an exciting time in a couples’ life. There are so many decisions and plans to be made that often couples completely bypass some of the more important conversations that should be had before they decide to dedicate their lives to one another. I’m not talking about where they will live or with whose family they will spend the holidays. I’m talking about the stuff that has a serious impact on the rest of a couples’ life together.

For starters, do you both want children? If yes, great. If no, great. As long as you’re agreed. If you’re undecided, that’s fine too, as long as you’re both open to the other person’s influence. If, however, one of you is firmly opposed to having children, and the other has dreamed of having children their whole life, this is a core issue that must be resolved prior to engaging in a lifelong commitment. If you stay together, one of you will wind up giving up something that matters to them. It is entirely possible that either way, the person who relented will grow accustomed to the situation and be perfectly fine, even happy. It’s equally likely that they will instead become resentful, and harbor that resentment until it grows into contempt. If you make the decision to give up something that is important to you, or to take on something you never wanted, make sure you thoroughly understand your motives and that you are not engaging in quid pro quo (agreeing to do something for them in return for them doing something for you- this is also unhealthy.) How you will raise children is a big topic too, but that in itself is a whole blog.

Finances are another major topic. I worked in finance for five years before transitioning to therapy full-time, and I saw plenty of couples both in that job and this one who struggled with the language of money. Some people are great with money, some aren’t. Most couples are comprised of one of each type of person. Money is a tough subject, but it is something that must be discussed in any successful relationship. One of the keys to successful relationships is delegation. When combined with another one of the keys, communication, delegation of responsibilities within a couple based upon the individual strengths of each partner contributes to the success of that couple. Talk about money openly and admit when one of you is more responsible with it than the other. Do this before you’re married, not after. Establish good habits and patterns early and they will serve you well.

I think one of the reasons that society balks at people who get married so soon after meeting is that it is hard to believe that people who literally just met could have possibly had all of the important conversations that need to be had prior to legally binding themselves to one another. Maybe they have a point. On the other hand, I’ve seen couples who were together for years before they got married who still didn’t have those conversations, and couples who were together for mere weeks before they got married who did. I think it’s more about quality than quantity. You can spend years with someone and barely say a word that means anything at all, or days with someone and say thousands of words that mean the world. Moral of the story: make what you do say count.

 

 

 

What Your Communication Says About You

I’ve often heard the comment, “You train people how to treat you.” I never understood it until the last few years. If you find that people quit talking to you for reasons they never explained, don’t respond to your texts, or that you get frustrated with others easily, there might be a very good reason for that.

YOU might be doing something wrong.

There are a few things that have popped up in therapy lately that have stuck with me: people who complain a lot, those who take on others’ emotions, and people who talk negatively about others often. No one ever seems to realize that they’re doing it, until it’s too late.

You might not notice that you complain a lot, but think about it. What’s your world view? Is the glass half full or half empty? If, for example, your boss notices that you complain about your relationship, your friendships, family, landlord, vet, local grocery store, or whatever, s/he can be pretty sure that you complain about your work. Naturally, this produces a lack of trust and effects your work environment in a negative way.

In addition, there’s a difference between venting and complaining. Sometimes someone just needs to get something out of their system and that’s fine as long as it’s someone with whom they’re close. However, if the person is “venting” under the guise of looking for a solution but then gives you more reasons as to why your suggestions won’t work, that’s complaining. The other person becomes wary and tired of this and no longer wants to hear it. Often, people don’t pick up on that cue and end up losing a friend or potential partner.

People who take on others’ emotions are truly in trouble. Pretty much all day, every day, the average person is surrounded by what they perceive to be “stupid,” “frustrating,” “lacking awareness” etc. You are always going to be around people like this and the best thing you can do is be careful not to absorb it, engage in it, or become party to it. You never know what another person’s story is. They might be functioning the best they can. They might have completely different life experiences than you do. You can’t place the expectations and standards you have for yourself on others.

As for those who never have a nice thing to say about anyone, my mom had an old rule of thumb that I think makes a lot of sense:  “Don’t ever write or say anything about another person that you wouldn’t mind that person reading or saying.” Everyone has “that friend” that talks badly about everyone he or she knows. You can assume that person speaks badly of you. Again, that creates a lack of trust. My mom always had 2 other sayings that I try to live by: “Do unto others as you would have done to you” and “Think before you speak.” All in all, I have to say my mom was right.

Hope this helps!

What Your Communication Says About You

I’ve often heard the comment, “You train people how to treat you.” I never understood it until the last few years. If you find that people quit talking to you for reasons they never explained, don’t respond to your texts, or that you get frustrated with others easily, there might be a very good reason for that.

YOU might be doing something wrong.

There are a few things that have popped up in therapy lately that have stuck with me: people who complain a lot, those who take on others’ emotions, and people who talk negatively about others often. No one ever seems to realize that they’re doing it, until it’s too late.

You might not notice that you complain a lot, but think about it. What’s your world view? Is the glass half full or half empty? If, for example, your boss notices that you complain about your relationship, your friendships, family, landlord, vet, local grocery store, or whatever, s/he can be pretty sure that you complain about your work. Naturally, this produces a lack of trust and effects your work environment in a negative way.

In addition, there’s a difference between venting and complaining. Sometimes someone just needs to get something out of their system and that’s fine as long as it’s someone with whom they’re close. However, if the person is “venting” under the guise of looking for a solution but then gives you more reasons as to why your suggestions won’t work, that’s complaining. The other person becomes wary and tired of this and no longer wants to hear it. Often, people don’t pick up on that cue and end up losing a friend or potential partner.

People who take on others’ emotions are truly in trouble. Pretty much all day, every day, the average person is surrounded by what they perceive to be “stupid,” “frustrating,” “lacking awareness” etc. You are always going to be around people like this and the best thing you can do is be careful not to absorb it, engage in it, or become party to it. You never know what another person’s story is. They might be functioning the best they can. They might have completely different life experiences than you do. You can’t place the expectations and standards you have for yourself on others.

As for those who never have a nice thing to say about anyone, my mom had an old rule of thumb that I think makes a lot of sense:  “Don’t ever write or say anything about another person that you wouldn’t mind that person reading or saying.” Everyone has “that friend” that talks badly about everyone he or she knows. You can assume that person speaks badly of you. Again, that creates a lack of trust. My mom always had 2 other sayings that I try to live by: “Do unto others as you would have done to you” and “Think before you speak.” All in all, I have to say my mom was right.

Hope this helps!

Depression or Sadness?

At least a few times a week, I have clients who sit down on my couch and immediately say, “I’m soooooo depressed.” My first question is usually, “Why are you depressed?” My general rule is that if you can tell me specifically why you’re depressed, it isn’t depression. It’s sadness. Sadness is a normal emotion to have when something bad has happened. Your dog dies, your best friend moves away, you break up with your partner: these are events that cause sadness, and yes, if the feelings persist for a long time, it may develop into depression. But the difference is this: sadness is an effect, caused by an event. Depression doesn’t necessarily have a causing event; it can come out of nowhere and completely disable the person suffering from it. Sadness is an emotion; depression is a state of being.

Trying to describe depression to someone who hasn’t suffered from it is like trying to explain color to someone who has always been blind. How do you describe the color green if you can’t reference trees, grass, nature, your best friend’s eyes, etc.? You can’t. They have no reference point. For those who live with depression, explaining what it’s like to someone who has never felt it is impossible. But I’m going to try.

Imagine everything in your body hurts, like when you have the flu, but the pain isn’t physical, it’s psychological- but no less real. There is no medication that you can take to make the symptoms even the slightest bit less intense. You can’t predict when it will hit or for how long it will persist  and doing the simplest of tasks feels impossible. Imagine that in addition to the pain and discomfort you feel, your brain is telling you that it will never get better, that it will always be this way. It may even tell you that life isn’t worth living, that you should just end things now because that is the only release from this hell that is now your life. It could also tell you that you deserve this for one or countless wrongs you have done others in your life, and this incredible pain is your punishment for those wrongs.

I know what it’s like, because I’ve been there. Most therapists don’t admit their own struggles to their clients, but I’m going to let you in on a secret: the best therapists have had mental health issues, faced them, and speak from experience. We as therapists are no better than you, no smarter than you, and we’re certainly no less human than you.  Acknowledging and embracing that makes us better at what we do and makes it easier for our clients to trust us. We’ve learned how to conquer these things and when we can admit to our clients that we’ve suffered from them we can also share how we got past them- and that’s the whole point. If we can get past them, so can you. There is no cure for depression, but there are definitely ways of easing the pain and learning to function in spite of it.

 

The Rainbow Child: My Coming Out Story

I started volunteering at The Center when I was in my undergraduate program at UCF. I frequented local LGBTQ+ bars and clubs even before I had really come out. One of my first “real” dates with a girl was at Pulse. It was the first time I had ever danced at a club with another woman and not felt ogled and sexualized by straight men for just having fun. It was the first time I ever really felt safe as a bisexual woman in public, that night, years ago, dancing at Pulse.

I came out in stages, first to people I dated, then to friends, then slowly to some co-workers. But not to family. I love my family. They’re wonderful. But for the most part, they are much more conservative than I am, and while I have never really heard them say anything against the LGBTQ+ community, I was scared. My family is very close, my aunt and uncle are more like my second parents and my cousins are more like my siblings. The thought that I could lose them because of my sexuality, or that they would think less of me because of it terrified me, and I couldn’t handle it. So when I dated men, I brought them home and introduced them. When I dated women, I didn’t bring them home at all, or I introduced them as friends. Then I married a man, a wonderful man who knows and understands and supports me and is an advocate and an ally, and that was that.

When I started working for Two Spirit Health Services, Inc., no one in my family was really surprised; I had always been outspoken about my advocacy in the LGBTQ community and my work in the HIV+ community. They didn’t totally understand why my passion was so fierce in those areas, but they respected it and supported me. And then the Pulse massacre happened.

Never have I felt more ashamed of hiding my sexuality than I did that day. I never lied about it, but there were times that I didn’t correct people when they assumed I was straight, or when my mom referred to me as a “straight ally” that I let her. How could I sit in my office and encourage people to be themselves, not to hide, not to live in fear while doing that myself? I felt like a hypocrite. That day, when members of my community lost their lives or were horrifically injured because of that hateful act, I just couldn’t do it anymore. My mom had been texting me to check on me to see if I was okay because she knows how much this community matters to me, and to see if there was any way she could help. I just did it. I came out. She was wonderful, supportive and loving and it changed nothing; if anything, our relationship is better. I then came out on Facebook. Most people knew, but there were some who didn’t and the support was overwhelming. On Father’s Day, I came out to the rest of my family. Again, no one was really surprised and there were lots of hugs and affirmations, not a word of disgust or discontent.

The other night, I was talking with my mom and she referred to me as her “rainbow child.” I laughed, and she said she was serious. She said that the rainbow that had appeared over Lake Eola the night of the vigil one week after the shootings looked exactly like the one that had appeared over Orlando the day that I was born, and that she didn’t think that was a coincidence. She even told me to go look in my baby book, that she had written about that rainbow. She was right: there it was, a letter written more than thirty years ago by my mother, “The Lord gave me rainbows while we were waiting for you.”

Maybe I was always meant to do this. Maybe that rainbow was an announcement of some sort. Or maybe it was just a random rainbow in a city where it rains a lot. I don’t know, but that’s okay. Knowing that I serve a greater purpose, that I serve a community as united, strong and beautiful as ours warms my heart and gives me the strength I need to support those who need it through the days that have passed, and the days to come.

How to Get Unstuck: Changing Your Mindset

You’ve heard the terms: Negative Nancy. Debbie Downer. And you know the sayings: “If it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have none at all.” “If it can go wrong, it will.” None of us like being around this person, but what a lot of people don’t realize is that they are indeed this person.

Those used to be my mottos before I went to grad school and learned how, and why, to be more optimistic. A professor of mine taught us how to do “positive thinking,” in which you counter every 1 negative thought with 3 positive ones. It changed my life. I wrote a whole blog on that, if you would like more details about that practice, but here are some other tips I’ve picked up on along the way.

Think about the words you use and how it effects your actions and beliefs. Be aware of when you say “I can’t” do something. If you say that to yourself long enough, you’ll start to believe it. Also be conscious of when you say words like “always” and “never.” I heard this statement today from a transgender client: “People ‘always’ react badly when I come out to them.” I find that hard to believe since I know hundreds of trans people and they’ve had mostly good reactions. Another example is: “My husband ‘never’ takes out the trash.” Realize that what you’re saying is your husband has literally never taken out the trash a single day in his life.

Notice what you’re noticing. I heard about a seminar in which the speaker had everyone look around the room and look for how many brown things they see. Most noticed about 10. Then the audience was asked to close their eyes and make a list of how many red things they had seen. On average, people could only list 1-2 things whereas the speaker had purposely placed 15 red things in the room that were very noticeable.

You get what you’re looking for and you get what you expect. If you expect that your next date is going to suck, you’ll probably make sure that comes true. If you expect that a visit from your in-laws this weekend is going to go differently and everyone will have fun, you’ll feel more motivated to make that happen. The good, the bad, the ugly, the beautiful – it’s all there. Your reality is no more than what you expect and notice about it.

I use the example of green traffic lights. No one ever notices them. But the red one, the one that stops us from getting where we need to go, is the one most of us focus on. I used to go through 7 traffic lights on the way to work and I made it a point to count the green ones and, most days, it was 4-5 out of 7. But I was looking for green lights and, sure enough, I found them. Hmmm. Go figure.

Hope this helps!

Trust in Relationships

As a couples’ counselor, trust is a topic that comes up daily in my world. Often, the subject of trust is brought up in response to a betrayal in the current relationship, and sometimes it’s an unresolved issue left over from a previous relationship. Regardless, trusting one’s partner is imperative to a healthy relationship.

When you’re in an intimate relationship with someone, in order for love to grow, trust has to grow as well. The trust that you have in the beginning of a relationship is different from the trust that you have after ten or twenty years. The relationship evolves and grows and so does the trust. In the beginning, trust is a choice: you choose to trust the other person because you want to build something with them. They haven’t done anything to show you that your trust is misplaced. But no one is perfect and it is inevitable that at some point, someone will do something that causes their partner to feel betrayed in some way. Sometimes it’s small betrayals over time, like a partner who often says they are going to do things but doesn’t follow through. Others, it’s one big event, like infidelity, that calls everything you believed to be true about your relationship into question. How can you possibly trust someone who has gone back on their word to such an extent?

Couples come to therapy because the efforts they’ve made to rebuild trust aren’t working, and they need help getting back on track. Zack Brittle, LMHC and Certified Gottman Therapist says that it’s very difficult to establish trust on a conditional basis. The best example of this that I can give you is one that I’ve seen over and over again: there is an affair. The betrayed partner chooses to forgive the other partner, but only on the condition that the partner who cheated makes their phone, email and social networking available to the betrayed partner for monitoring for the foreseeable future. Trust cannot possibly thrive in these circumstances.

The answer to how to rebuild trust is simple: you do it all day every day in every action that promotes connection and understanding in your relationship. According to John Gottman, trust is built in small incremental moments over time. It really boils down to whether or not you believe your partner is there for you, and vice versa. Choosing to give them your attention when it’s clear they need it, acting in the best interest of your partner rather than choosing self-interest, putting their bad day ahead of your own, etc. Gottman calls this “turning toward,” and says that trust is an action, not an idea or belief. We trust our partners because of what they do, not what they say, thus enforcing the idea, “Actions speak louder than words.” When you sacrifice your wants or needs to focus on theirs, you promote trust and they in turn can do the same.

Ascribing Intention: Assumption’s Ugly Cousin

Last month, I discussed the dangers of assumption. This month, I want to take it a step further. Assumption’s ugly cousin is ascribing intention, or taking something someone says and infusing meaning into it based on your perception of what they’re saying instead of what is actually coming out of their mouth. Perception is colored by a lot of things: your mood, the other person’s tone of voice, your personal opinions and views on the subject at hand, and personal insecurities. Any of these things can affect how you hear what someone else says, so when you find yourself assigning a specific negative intention to what someone is saying, the best course of action is to ask, rather than assume. By asking, you’re giving them the opportunity to explain their thought process and clue you in to what’s going on with them, which can help you to understand where their perspective. You’re also preventing unnecessary conflict and negative emotion, which are the natural byproducts of assumption and ascribing intention. In the event that you can’t ask them, then ask yourself this question- why are you automatically going to the worst possible scenario? That indicates that there may be a deeper issue, that your internal radar for other peoples’ intentions towards you is automatically set to “negative,” and you may need to consider where that is coming from and why.

Experts call this behavior “hypervigilance for negativity.” It has very little to do with what is being said, and everything to do with how you’re filtering what is being said. If you are looking for negativity, you’re inevitably going to find it. I am not expecting everyone to go through life ignoring every negative thing they come across, but as an expert on mental health, I’ll tell you this- progress and growth does not come from focusing on negativity. It comes from finding a silver lining whenever possible and reframing what could potentially be seen as negative into the most realistic positive perspective.

Ascribing intention through hypervigilance for negativity is a recipe for complete disaster. People often fall into this when they’re at their worst: if they’re depressed, when they’ve had a bad day, when they aren’t getting what they want from their partner, etc. This occasional behavior can easily develop into a pattern, and it’s a hard one to break because it goes hand in hand with feeling victimized and like the world is out to get you. If you fail to recognize your role and accept responsibility, you get caught up in the idea that you have no control and things just “happen” to you. This is rarely the case. You have more power than you realize. By simply asking instead of assuming and ascribing intention, you are taking control of the situation by admitting that you don’t know everything and allowing the other person to provide you with the information you need to reframe the situation and look at it from a more positive perspective.

Setting Positive Boundaries

It never fails to amaze me how people don’t understand boundaries. It comes up in sessions all the time: an overbearing mother using guilt, a significant other being co-dependent, or a pushy friend who’s involved more than you want them to be. These are just some examples of poor boundaries.

In order to create healthy boundaries, you first have to determine if you do too much for the person in question. When they ask you to do something, you have to ask 3 questions: Would they do it for me? How motivated am I do this? How much does it put me out?

I use this example: A friend asks me to take her to the airport at 5 in the morning on a weekday.

  • Would she do it for me?

Maybe, if there was no such thing as Uber and it were something important like a death in the family.

  • How motivated am I to do this?

Not at all! I’m not a morning person and this time doesn’t fit my schedule.

  • How much will it put me out?

Very much! My work day starts at 11 so this would have me out of bed 6-7 hours earlier than normal. Once I wake up I can’t go back to sleep. So, I would then be tired the rest of the day and that’s not good for me or my clients.

Two out of three “no’s” gives me my answer. This is not something I’m going to be doing for that friend.

Also, we train people how to treat us. I often amaze people when I tell them that I can’t remember the last time someone yelled at me, cursed at me, called me a name, or even raised their voice to me. It’s because I don’t allow it.

Any time I’m interacting with another person it’s coming from a place of love. I’m either trying to help that person or understand them better. I don’t get into “Who’s right?” conversations. If it starts to become that, I simply say, “This is getting heated. We’re just going to have to agree to disagree.” I’ve yet to encounter anyone having an issue with that.

If someone comes at me sideways with a raised voice or a threatening tone, I point that out to them. It is completely possible that the person is not aware. I might say,“You sound like you’re getting upset. What’s wrong?” This gives them an opportunity to manage their tone and/or be aware that’s how they’re coming across.

If the situation continues to escalate, I disengage in it. That doesn’t mean I walk away without an explanation, I let the person know that they are clearly upset and that’s not a good time to have a conversation. And then I give a general time when it can be revisited.

Following these simple rules will help you build better boundaries with the people in your life. Trust me. This will make your life a lot better, easier, and calmer.

Hope this helps!