Saturday, December 15, 2012

"I am Adam Lanza's Mother"

Trying to make sense of what happened in Connecticut? You must read this piece by the Anarchist Soccer Mom about her struggle to get help for her son who's affected by mental illness in a society that has so few resources to offer them. We must be able to provide better options for people suffering from mental illness than "jail" or "death". Please share her brave and important story...

Monday, November 12, 2012

Effort+Failure+Learning+More Effort=Competence=Confidence

Recently someone posed a question about what to do to help her daughter develop confidence.  I thought back to when I was a young'un and what I wish someone would have told me when I believed some people were "naturally" good at some things and others less so, or not at all.

Here's what I told her: Process-based feedback. Rather than using essentializing descriptions (e.g. "you're good", "you're smart"), point out the strategies she uses to be successful. I wish someone would have explained that we are neither "good" or "bad" at something. It's just a matter of working hard, learning from mistakes, and keeping at it--even when you feel like quitting. Things that are difficult can still be worth doing.

I've written before about "logging your time", It's only when we push through our performance plateaus that we see what we're capable of.  There are no shortcuts to true competence, and no worthwhile confidence that isn't hard won. 

So when you see your child struggling with learning some new task, point out what's working--and where they could improve.  Remind them of other scenarios where they overcame obstacles.  How were they able to be successful then?  Praise them for their effort; help them learn from mistakes.  Watch them bloom into competent, confident young people.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Anyone who has ever experienced shame or bullying needs to watch this on-air response by Wisconsin television news reporter Jennifer Livingston to the man who criticized her for her weight.  She defends herself and other victims of bullying, saying:  "Do not let your self-worth be defined by bullies."  Amen, Jennifer.  And good for you for using your position and influence to take a stand against bullying and allying yourself with others who are being shamed into silence.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

When the Starting is the Hardest Part

I just read this thoughtful post on Heather Armstrong's blog, and thought her story really captures what it's like to face the day when depression tries its best to make sure you stay buried beneath the blankets.  So now I'm wondering, what gets you out of bed on those mornings when it feels so hard to start?

Monday, August 27, 2012

Surviving Out Loud

Getting a mood disorder is like getting the flu.  It strikes seemingly at random.  No one is to blame.    No one should feel ashamed or guilty that they have it.  There's no vaccine or miracle cure, but there is hope. It sucks, but it will get better with treatment and care.

That's why I love Katherine Stone's album of postpartum mood survivors over on her great Postpartum Progress site.  Just beautiful families who have overcome great hardship to survive and thrive.  As Stone says, "We aren’t defective. We aren’t strange or unusual. We are great moms who were waylaid temporarily by a terrible illness."  And there's nothing shameful in being laid up by a terrible illness.  Indeed, in the same way that catching the flu can make a body more resistant to future illness, surviving a postpartum mood disorder makes a family tougher and more resilient in the face of future struggles. 

Monday, July 16, 2012

Finding a Formula for Successful Families

As a child of the '70s, I was weaned, per my pediatrician's instructions, around 5 months and given formula thereafter.  My mom recalls being advised that this course of action was the "healthy" option for infants. I'm baically a  healthy person--no history of major illnesses or developmental problems. Sure, I could always use a few extra IQ points, but I don't think being formula-fed has held me back from winning a Nobel or anything.

That's why I found myself saying, "Amen, sister!" while reading this article by Alissa Quart in the New York Times on Sunday. Since the 1970s, the American Academy of Pediatrics has reversed course and now recommends that mothers breastfeed exclusively for the first year of a child's life.

Well, that's all fine and good, but many mothers of newborns run into numberous adversities in breastfeeding:  latching problems, low output, pain or discomfort while nursing, or unsupportive (or even hostile) work environments for pumping,  There's a myriad of reasons why a mother might choose formula, and shaming her for that choice is unhelpful--and maybe even harmful.

So, let's focus on what Ms. Quart advises in her article:  child outcomes.  We have lots of data that says free early childhood education, paid parenting leave, and more workplace flexibility lead to better outcomes for children and families.  More support for working parents sounds to my formula-nourished mind like the healthiest option of all.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Time is on Your Side

I do my best thinking while running.  I did a 12-miler yesterday, and since I'm not a terribly fast runner, that meant I had a lot of time to think.  A LOT of time.

I thought about a former client of mine, let's call her Eve.  Eve would take a walk in the woods by her house every day.  She'd walked the woods so much, she knew them as well as she knew her own reflection in a mirror.  One day, however, Eve took a bad spill on one of her walks, hurting herself pretty badly.  She tried to crawl back to her house, but as darkness fell, she became confused and disoriented.  Eve did her best to take shelter under a tree and spent the night in the woods.

As morning arrived, Eve's neighbor noticed that Eve's car was parked in front of her house, but the house appeared unoccupied.  The neighbor, knowing Eve's evening ritual, went looking for her in the woods.  She found her, dangerously cold and badly hurt.  Eve was rushed to the hospital where she was treated and released--in a wheelchair.

When I met Eve, she had her mind set on learning to walk again, but anxiety tried time and again to talk her out of her goal.  "Sometimes I'll be trying to move my legs, and I see myself lost in the woods again. I don't trust myself anymore. I don't know if I'll ever walk again."

Over the few months Eve and I worked together, I was in training for my first half-marathon.  I hadn't run a step (except to stop my kids from running through the street) for almost five years.  In a sense, I was like Eve, relearning to do something that used to come naturally to me.  I shared with her my training strategy:  Log my time.  It didn't matter how far I ran during that time.  I didn't worry about my pace or any other outcome-based goals.  My goal was to simply log my time.  I believed time + work = results.  That formula guided my training.  I told Eve that if I thought about running 13 miles, I'd give up.  I wouldn't train.  But if I broke it down into smaller increments of time, those smaller goals felt within reach.  I envisioned these smaller bits of time would build upon each other, so that when it came time to do longer and longer runs, it would be hard, but all the experience that came before  would help me get through.

So while Eve started "logging her time" in physical therapy, I logged mine on the trail.  There were certainly high and low moments for each of us, and no shortage of pain and soreness in our joints, but we reached our respective goals.  By the conclusion of our work together, Eve was able to walk with a walking stick, even climbing unassisted into the cab of her friends' truck as we waved good-bye.  And on a follow-up visit, she demonstrated her hard-earned ability to walk unaided around the room.

I ran that half- marathon, crossing the finish line seven minutes ahead of my expected time.  And I"ve done another one since then.  When I run, I think about all my clients who've reached seemingly elusive goals.  Even when doubt  and anxiety tried to tell them it was hopeless, they put in the work anyway.  By logging their time, I have seen them save marriages, end cycles of abuse and shame, reclaim their lives from anxiety and depression, and of course, walk with confidence and grace.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Paper or Plastic?

On a totally different note, I just wanted to let you all know that I am now able to accept credit card payments for services, thanks to Square.  And as always, I have sliding fee scale availability for those who need it.  Keep up the good work, everyone!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Don't Be Afraid to Just Call Me

So here's my pledge to you, dear reader:  If you call me, for any reason, I will call you back by the next business day.  Anything less is not acceptable.  Thanks, Karen Kleiman and Psychology Today, for drawing attention to the importance of a prompt response from care providers who work with people who may be experiencing life-threatening anxiety or depressive symptoms.  You deserve a prompt response, and I promise to give you nothing less than you deserve.

Monday, February 13, 2012

"Unrestrained Enquiry and Possibility"

"It's too muddy outside."

This sentiment was echoed repeatedly as the parents at my daughter's preschool today explained to their children why they weren't permitted to go out on the playground.  It got me thinking about what messages we give our children and the values inherent in those messages.  So while the parents may be saying "It's too muddy", children may be inferring: "dirt is bad" or "don't take risks" or "inside is better than outside."  These surely unintended meanings may find their way into children's interpretations of themselves and their environment that they carry with them into adulthood.

I was heartened to read this post by Jan White about children's outdoor play in winter on her wonderful blog about young children's nature education.  She described a processs of "unrestrained enquiry and possibility" that I felt applied not just to children's experiences in nature, but also to our experiences in the "adult world" as well.  It made me wonder about what a life lived with "unrestrained enquiry and possibility" would look like.  What if shame or embarrassment didn't get in the way of pursuing a dream of performing on stage for an audience?  What if we were truly honest with ourselves and in our relationships?  What if we allowed ourselves to get dirty once in a while and to enjoy the satisfaction that comes from cleaning up afterward?

I realize that in many ways, I've sought to restrain enquiry and possibility from my life.  The unknown can be messy, awkward, and scary.  I don't always want to try the new and unusual experience.  "Familiarity" has "family" at its root:  It's what we're born with, what we know.  But today, as others were declaring it "too muddy" to play outside, my daughter and I saw nothing but possibility as we headed out to the playground, just us two.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Out-Sneaking Sneaky Poo

One of the most exasperating problems parents of young children face is having a potty-trained child who continues to soil herself.  It's stinky.  It's messy.  It's embarassing for the child and parents, alike.  It creates a lot of extra laundry and clean-up.  And in some circumstances, it can alter a family's social life.

So, what's a parent to do?  Here's a few thoughts to help keep your cool when "sneaky poo" tries to get your skivvies in a bunch:

Remember: soiling problems are common.  You and your child are not alone.  The stigma surrounding soiling problems, however, can make it feel very lonely.

Your child is not the problem.  Sneaky poo is the problem.  You and your child must present a unified front to conquer sneaky poo.

Children have marvellously rich imaginary powers.  How can your child imagine herself out-sneaking sneaky poo?  If he were his favorite superhero, how would the superhero defeat sneaky poo?  If her favorite author wrote a story about a child who out-sneaked sneaky poo, how do you think the story would go?

Small successes are successes.  Celebrating and documenting successful moments will help add "stickiness" to those memories, which are easily overlooked if sneaky poo has a sneak attack.

 Michael White, an incredibly gifted therapist who left us too soon, literally wrote the book on overcoming sneaky poo.  He generously made his work on sneaky poo available to families.  It's an incredibly valuable resource that has helped countless families tackle the sneaky poo problem.

Here's wishing you and yours lots of clean, dry pants.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Resolve to Reach Resolution

So, you've made yet another new year's resolution:  to lose weight, to exercise more, to quit smoking, to spend less.  This time, you promise yourself, your sticking to it.  Really.

So where there's a will, there's a way, right?  Well, that's true, sort of, according to a recent article in the New York Times by John Tierney.  Turns out, we all have willpower, it just happens to be finite.  When there's willpower left in the tank, there's a way.

So, how does one keep from spending one's limited supply of willpower?  Avoid temptation.  Easy, right?

Let's say your resolution is to quit smoking.  All you have to do is avoid situations where cigarettes lurk.  In Seattle, the smoking ban in bars and restaurants is tremendously helpful.  But there's still the "smoker's corners" outside office buildings.  The ads for cigarettes at every gas station, convenience store, and grocery.  That's a lot of opportunity for temptation to set in.  Choose your daily route carefully.

So, what replenishes willpower?  Positive reinforcement.  What should you do with the money you saved by not buying a pack of cigarettes today?  Reward yourself with another pleasurable purchase:  a fun app for your phone, a favorite magazine, a warm drink, anything that says "reward!" to the pleasure center of your brain.  Longer-term rewards are good, too.  Curtailing a $6/day habit after a year could net you as much as $2000.  Cruise much, lately?

Accountability is another major factor in sticking to the resolution.  Share successes with a close confidante. Share failures, too.  Do a post-mortem on what's going well, and where you'd like to improve.  Saying it out loud to someone, writing it in a journal, keeping a blog, tweeting, putting post-it notes around your home or office (or both!), all of these activities will increase the "stickiness" of the changes you're making and will help hold you accountable to your plan.

There's enough willpower in your account to make the changes you'd like to see in your life.  Spend that willpower wisely, and when in doubt, phone a friend!