Is the Squirrel at Your Door?

When I opened my cabin-office in the woods, I hoped the healing energy of the trees would support my clients, offering comfort and peace. You can see the trees from the large windows  in my office and a French glass door. "The cabin is surrounded by a cathedral of trees" said one of my clients.
What I did not think about was how all the woodland animals who live in those trees would participate in counseling at my cabin.

Yesterday, I stood at the French door and watched a squirrel digging right outside the door. A client came in and I asked him to stand by the door with me. We watched the squirrel digging. It was fast digging with both paws. Quick breaks and then more digging.

I thought the squirrel was going to pop something in the hole.
No, the squirrel poked her head in and pulled out some food she had buried. She looked at us with the prize in her mouth and then ran off.

I was amazed by the squirrel's timing. 
I said to my client, "All the work you have been doing to unbury a part of yourself, and this squirrel came at your session, right up the door."

After my client left, I thought about the squirrel. Unburying a part of yourself is painful, deep digging work. It's painful because this may be a part we have missed in our lives.  Sometimes this part challenges who we think we are. Unburying asks us many questions that require reflection, digging, digesting.

All the while, we are on the way to being more whole. 

If you are unburying yourself these days, may the squirrel be with you.

Tips for Holding A Gathering

Here are some tips if you are holding a gathering for women to share their stories of sexual assault and abuse.

1- Think about the space for your gathering. 
Be sure it is quiet and protected from interruptions.

2-It is important to have an opening and closing that supports connection between those gathered. Remind people that it is important to do something physical after to help their bodies. 

3-It is important to have a list of resources of counselors who specialize in trauma. It will say this on the counseling page of a website- where someone describes their qualifications. This list is a referral list for gatherers who may need support after the event.

4- Let gatherers know they may feel shaken or have waves of emotion that night or the next day and next week.  Many are already feeling this prior to the gathering.  Tell them to really plan to do lots of extra selfcare that night or the next day. 

5-Define selfcare for gatherers. Not everyone knows how to do this. Give examples. I have 25 tips for mental health wellbeing on my website. You can download this and share it as a handout. Or share some other lists.

6-Think about how gatherers transition from one speaker to the next. Who will help move to the next person?

7- Please discuss flooding and have a way for someone to step back or step out if they need without feeling they are hurting others. You may want to have extra support for someone who becomes flooded. Flooding can happen when a person is listening to all the stories. 

Take good care. This matters. Thanks for all everyone is doing to hold these gatherings. Please plan to take good care of you too. 

Where does joy come from?

My client looked at me and asked, "Where does joy come from?"
This is a question that I think many people wonder about. 

Joy comes from our sense of gratitude and appreciation. 

Joy happens when we pause and notice, really notice something we appreciate. 

To fully appreciate something or someone we need to hold it in our gaze, listen with full attention, and pause to feel it. Absorb and take in whatever it is you are appreciating. 

It can be the smell of the ocean, the water on my feet, the color of the roses. As I drove up the street a bright yellow goldfinch flew by. This morning it was the last of my earl grey tea, the soft grey color of the clouds, the message from my daughter, the warmth of the sweater on my skin. Joy comes from noticing what is right in front of you.

For some people, this is a way of being. You can make it your way of being. Pause from whatever you are doing, every hour or more, and notice something you appreciate. The more you pay attention to what you appreciate, the more you will feel joy.

Some people practice by keeping a gratitude journal. Stopping to write down and hold in your thoughts something you appreciate. This is the art of holding the gratitude in your mind, lingering on the appreciation. It is not the writing or drawing that creates the joy, it is the lingering in the appreciation. This is where joy comes from.

Can you do this without journaling?  Yes. You can do it by pausing and noticing.

What if you don't feel anything? 
It may take time for you to feel, fully feel your own appreciation of something. Be patient with yourself.  Begin by appreciating with your sight, hearing, smell, and touch whatever it is you are feeling grateful for.  Smiling can help get you closer to joy while you appreciate. Neuroscientists have found that smiling sets off a neural response in your brain that will make you feel happier. You will feel joy in time. 

What You Can Say and Do for Someone who is Depressed

The things we say and do and can make a difference when someone is depressed. Here are some things that help. 

It takes patience, courage, and practice.

The first thing to do: 
It's not easy to find a good therapist or the right fit. You can help someone by getting recommendations of a good therapist. When you help find a recommendation, you are a lifeline. Ask your friends for recommendations. Check with your healthcare provider, naturopath, acupuncturist, or massage therapist. They will usually know someone.  

You can even help set up the first appointment or stand with them when they make the first phone call. 
It takes courage to go to that first appointment.
Note when their appointment is and bring some care.
Call them, check in and ask how the appointment went. Ask if they made another appointment. 

It is important to ask if your loved one is feeling suicidal. Ask. Get immediate help if they say yes. Stay with them. Do not leave them alone.

Lend them your faith:
People who are depressed can get exhausted by the fight and as we know, they may give up. Bring lots of faith. The faith that they will recover, remind them of the better days. Loan them your faith when they run out of it. Tell them they will heal.

Support the meds:
Never ever say, "meds don't work". Medication is sometimes essential. Be affirming and support people to take the medication. The medication can help them stabilize. Medication alone is not enough. If someone says they have stopped taking all their meds, be concerned. Remind them if you saw the medication helping. Be understanding that medication has side effects. 

Show up often:
Join them in doing the life affirming things that help people recover. Show up. Be a good friend. Hang out with them and get them to take a walk, go out in nature. Do meditation together. Go for a massage. Take a yoga class together. Be the soft shoulder.

Bring your strength:

Never be tired of their fight. It can be exhausting for them and exhausting to everyone supporting them, including you. In fact, there will be times when it is too much for you. Try not to withdraw. Try to bring others onto the team to support and care and help so you can take breaks.

We have all heard of people who were getting help, taking meds, had loving people around and still took their lives. It takes more than meds, more than therapy, it takes a whole lot to break through with someone to find a life worth living. 

Support Changes:
Often they need to make changes in their life to make it better. Try not to be reactive and think they are making a big mistake. It takes so much courage to take the steps to make the changes. Be supportive of them taking those steps. 

For those who have lost a loved one to suicide,  the burden of "what could we have done differently" weighs so heavy. Your love and understanding will be needed.  They did everything they could. 

If You Know Someone Who Resists Getting Help, Bruce Springsteen's Book Could Make A Difference

Yes, I am a crazy big Bruce Springsteen fan and have been since 1978. The memoir Born to Run is not really a trip through musical fandom wonderland. As a psychotherapist, I love this memoir and I highly recommend it because Bruce Springsteen is a HUGE advocate of seeking and using mental health support.
As I turned the pages, he explains how his father's undiagnosed schizophrenia affected him growing up. He also explains how his father's illness affected his mom and sister. I was deeply moved by his compassion for his mom and his dad as he figures out how ill his father is. he details the difficult road to getting help for his father.
Bruce could have stopped there, but he didn't. He courageously also describes his own harrowing experiences with depression, the life saving difference medication made, and his fierce lifelong commitment to stay in therapy.
I love this memoir because he honestly describes the road not of self-destruction and drugs, but instead, what it takes to get help and stay surrounded by good mental health support. I believe this book will save someone. If you know someone who has been resistant to getting help or given up on getting help, Bruce shines the light on how important it is to not try to face depression alone.

What to do during a Mental Health Emergency

I am writing this on the heels of a very difficult week. This week I was reminded how hard it is to know what to do during a mental health emergency.
People break.
Anyone can break. No one knows their stress-load and how much they can take. 
When a person breaks, they start saying completely crazy off the wall things. They don't sound like themselves. It is as if they aren't inside their bodies.
They hear voices, they imagine people are out to get them, they say things that make no sense. One minute they are talking about one thing and the next minute they are crouching on the floor to avoid being seen by a crow in the tree.
If you are around someone who breaks, the word we call it is psychosis. Psychosis can happen when someone is very depressed, or very manic, or if they are schizophrenic.
If you are with someone who is having a psychotic episode, please know the person can be very dangerous to themselves and other people.
They may never be the kind of person that would hurt someone, but when they are out of their minds, and they don't know what they are saying or doing, they can accidentally hurt themselves, kill themselves, or hurt others.
It is very important to get the person into a safe place where they can't be hurt or hurt others.
Now here is where all things can go very wrong or very right.
It is very important to get the person to a hospital. You may need to call an ambulance to safely transport them. Ambulance drivers are angels here on earth. If you drive someone yourself, they could jump out of your moving car and start another situation on a road or bridge. Call an ambulance if possible.

But not all hospitals treat mental health emergencies. If you can, call and ask if the hospital has a psychiatric unit. Try to get the person to a hospital that has a psychiatric unit. Those hospitals are better equipped to help during a mental health emergency.
But you may not be near a hospital that has a psych unit. If not, please go to your emergency room. There are two things they can do in any hospital.
1) They can call for a mental health person to evaluate the seriousness of the situation in hospital. Having a CDMHP (County Designated Mental Health Professional) come evaluate is critical. I know most people think if a Doctor sees the person that will be enough. But actually, the Mental Health professional is the person who is authorized to get a temporary hold to have a person kept at a hospital to protect them from hurting themselves.  These counselors don't work in the hospital. They have to be called to the hospital. You must ask, demand, and insist that they be called. There may be one person on call for a large region and it may take 8 hours for them to get to the hospital. But the hospital will not release the person until they are evaluated. Please wait for the evaluation. It may be the only way to get help for the person you love. WAIT.
2) Ask the staff to administer HALDOL. This is a medication to help a person who is having a psychotic episode. The medication will help them calm down and help the psychosis recede.  They may wait to administer meds til after the Mental health counselor gets there, but do get the medication.
3) Any person having a psychotic episode needs round the clock supervision with someone who is awake at all times making sure the person doesn't get up and do something unsafe.

Arrange for psychiatrist and counseling to start the next day when the person comes out of the hospital. Care, medication, supervision/support needs to be surrounding the person until they recover. Recovery can take time. Every person is different.

This is a complicated thing to describe in a blog but these days our healthcare and mental health systems are simply NOT RESPONDING APPROPRIATELY IN EVERY SITUATION and it is up to you to ADVOCATE. You need to know how to help your family and friends.

1- Get to a hospital. Call for an ambulance.
2- Request a CDMHP
3- Ask for HALDOL medication
4- Provide 24 hour supervision until a counselor psychiatrist says it is no longer needed.
5- Get appointments lined up to be sure there is enough medication to help the person recover and therapy for the issues that may have contributed to the episode.
6- Create a support team of family and friends around the person to walk the road of recovery with them.

I feel sick that you need to be prepared because our systems are so broken, overburdened, and a person who needs help may not get it. One day someone may call you and say, "I don't know what to do" and you may be that person who knows what to say.
Every person needs an advocate during a mental health emergency. The person who breaks can't do this for themselves.
Without the medication, help, safety and support, the consequences are tragic.

Traumatic Trump Disorder

If you have ever lived with someone who abused you, as a child or adult, or lived with someone who was paranoid and believed things that weren’t real but were convinced in their truth, so convinced they raged at any disagreement - then, you may be experiencing some trauma triggers. You in fact be feeling ill. Very ill.

Even people who aren’t survivors of abuse are feeling stunned, overwhelmed, and ill.

But I want to return to the people who have actually grown up and lived in households where you were raged at, confronted with paranoid delusions, and feared for your life if you disagreed with the person.

You are not crazy.
You know what you are seeing.
You may feel have difficulty expressing what you are feeling.

I want you to know a few things.

This is very scary. People are organizing and resisting this. You do not have to fight. You probably fought your whole life. It is ok to try and take care of yourself right now.

You do not need to take care of the whole country and the whole world.

The resistance is growing.

There are people who are feeling fierce and strong and ready to deal with this.

Right now, you need to take care of how you are doing. If you feel sick or are having headaches, or full of anxiety, it may be a good idea to take a break from watching this on the news.

It is also good to get some help. Counseling can help you manage with some of the trauma triggers you are feeling.

It is also ok to do some things that make you feel ok. If you have a hobby or interest, or like to walk in the woods. Do things that are gentle, safe, and peaceful. If you like to do art or play music, or cook. Stick with things that feel nurturing.

You do not need to apologize to anyone because you need a break. Taking care of yourself is not wrong. It is the best response for you.

It is ok to have boundaries.

 Anyone who has lived with stress of this sort knows it affects your immune system. It will not help you to try and ignore your feelings. Now is the time to take care of you.

The resistance is growing. The resistance is strong.

You can join when you feel able. But if you are having trauma symptoms, stop and take care of you. 

Fact: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is real. As of this writing we are not in a "post" situation. We are in an ongoing day by day situation. And it may be triggering trauma for some people.

Sarri Gilman is the author of Transform Your Boundaries.