Do you want to cry – or scream right about now? I sure do.

Pittsburgh. Package bombs. Hate, blaming, mind games and hateful political ads 24/7. The news was already too much – and then, another mass shooting. In a place of worship. What has happened to our country?

I’ve been around a lot of years and I’ve never experienced anything like the current state of affairs or state of anxiety in our country – in children or adults. I’m hearing the same thing from friends and colleagues. And that goes for people on both sides of the aisle.

In addition to the recent violence, the testimony of Dr. Ford seemed to have touched a deep nerve for many women, bringing up their own experience of sexual assault – or of someone they know and love. The #MeToo movement has been arousing our collective angst, sadness and fury over the injustice women have endured for too long.

Add to that the hourly barrage of news of murders, rapes, abductions and the “end of our democracy”. It’s enough to make the most even-keeled moderate a basket case (not a clinical term).

My unofficial poll of local women shows that nearly all are “far more stressed” than usual. They are worried about the state of the country and the world; they’re worrying about their kids and their health (which has been affected by stress, sleepless nights, too much Fortnite!, etc.).

What you choose to do about the state of our democracy and our world is up to you. (But please, VOTE.) After that, here are some things we can all do to adjust the dial on stress. Extreme times call for extreme self-care.

  • Unplug. Seriously, turn off cable news and reduce social media. You’ve heard this before but have you ever tried it? I have and it helps. A lot. Give it a serious try for a week and you’ll be hooked (or unhooked).
  • Journal. Either free-form like you did when you kept a diary as a kid or try keeping a gratitude journal. Research shows writing down the things you are grateful for daily is therapeutic. Try “The Morning Pages” a pen and paper writing practice espoused by Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way (you don’t have to be artistic to benefit).
  • Connect. Health experts say “loneliness” is an American health epidemic with serious health consequences on par with obesity and smoking. Are you tending to your close relationships? If not, make the time. Seriously, go call a friend. Or, if you need to, talk to a professional. Get the support you need and realize you’re not alone because you’re not. We’re social creatures and we need friends, encouragement and connection.
  • Volunteer. A great way to connect with others is through volunteering. Often when we’re feeling down, helping others is a nearly instantaneous way to shift our mental state. We get perspective, purpose and we make a difference in the lives of others. Everybody wins.
  • Move. Take a walk, run or work in a garden. For general stress there is no better way to detoxify than a good workout, whatever that is for you. Get your heart rate up and get moving. Fresh air and nature are a magic elixir for stress.
  • Breathe. Meditate and/or Pray. Be still and listen. What do you really need now? What is calling to you? What changes do you long to make to be happier, healthier and living on purpose? If you have a hard time being still, apps like CALM and Headspace can help you ease into a practice.
  • Sleep. Get more of this brain and beauty treatment. Lack of sleep contributes to obesity, dementia and depression. If nothing else, those are very good reasons to prioritize quality and quantity of sleep. Keep a log, track sleep on your Fitbit or AppleWatch and notice if you feel better when you sleep more. What’s your ideal number (some people need 9 hours – others 7)? Find your sweet spot, set a goal to get that amount and sleep your way to better health.
  • Cat Videos. Pets in all forms are good medicine. Studies show that petting our pets does calm us and makes us happier.  So hug your cat – or dog or watch funny pet videos. Check out this cute kitten – and bat all the bad things away. Laughter is great medicine too!

These are all evidence-based strategies that will help boost your mood, increase endorphins, reduce feelings of isolation and help to calm you in this storm that is this crazy, modern life. And if misery does indeed love company, just know you have A LOT of company.

Dana was just 19-years-old and a sophomore at the University of Florida, when she put a stack of albums on the record player, turned it up loud, drove her car into the family garage and asphyxiated herself.

She was one of my best friends and we were home for Christmas break, when I arrived at her house for a visit a few days before we were headed back to school. Suitcases, furniture, tools – stuff was all over the driveway as she cleaned out her parent’s garage which hadn’t been emptied for 20 years. We talked about our recent summer abroad in Colombia and the upcoming semester at Florida.

Although this was decades ago, I remember it well and have gone over the details of that day a hundred times in my mind.  What did I miss?

I’ll never know. Two days later, she put her car in the empty garage, turned the key and was gone.

It was unimaginable that this beautiful, smart, funny, popular girl would end her life in such a well-planned and calculated manner. But it happens all the time. Sometimes a suicide attempt is foolproof and designed carefully to succeed. Other times it is a cry for help that accidentally succeeds. Regardless of the intention, suicide is the second leading cause of death for people between the ages of 10 and 34, according to the National Institute for Mental Health. And more than half (54%) who died by suicide did not have a known mental health condition.

Untreated depression is the number one cause of suicide for college students, according to suicide.org, a non-profit organization raising awareness about suicide. Other risk factors for suicide include:

      • A family history of suicide
  • Substance abuse
  • Isolation
  • Access to guns
  • Recent loss or trauma
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • A history of abuse
  • Prolonged stress
  • Sleep deprivation

Here’s the thing – none of us is immune from potentially developing a mental illness and neither are our children. According to the World Health Organization, one in four people in the world will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives.

For some it’s hereditary, i.e., depression runs in the family. For others, experiencing a traumatic event, like being the victim of a crime, a first responder to a tragedy, or enduring the loss of a child or of a loved one, can cause symptoms to develop. Sometimes the diagnosis of a life-threatening illness or a pro-longed battle with one can bring about depression or lead someone to contemplate suicide.

Even elementary school kids as young as seven or eight are being Baker Acted in Central Florida (involuntarily committed) for mental illness. Sometimes this is done to protect them from killing themselves. Let that sink in.  Seven or eight (and younger).

Since any one of us could be affected, and since we all know or love someone who has battled mental illness, we are left wondering why any stigma remains. But it does. Getting help for a mental illness is no different than seeking help for cancer, diabetes or arthritis. There should be no shame.

That is one reason the National Association for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) designated October 7-13 as Mental Health Awareness Week. They are striving to increase awareness and to reduce the stigma of mental illness.

So, if you are feeling depressed, overwhelmed or have thoughts about suicide, please seek help. There are many great therapists locally and other resources locally and nationally to help you or someone you love. Mental illness is treatable and healing is possible. Don’t wait.

Below are additional resources:

Dana’s name was changed to protect her identity but I went to high school with her and she is fondly remembered today and always. 

Special Thanks: Garage/old car and record player respectively by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash – Christin Hume on Unsplash

“STOP!!” I demanded, repeatedly as I wrestled a man much bigger than me. He would not stop…

Has this ever happened to you? If you are female and live in the United States, chances are you’ve experienced something similar, or worse. Statistics show that:

  • 1 in 3 women and 1 in 6 men experience some form of contact sexual violence in their lifetime.
  • 1 in 5 women and 1 in 71 men will be raped at some point in their lives.
  • 51.1% of female victims of rape reported being raped by an intimate partner and 40.8% by an acquaintance.

My memories from college came flooding back during the senate hearing with Dr. Blasey Ford. As I watched, I found myself weeping at her experience, at the experience of one in three women in our country – and at my own. I had never told a soul till that day.

I had gone out a few times with this guy, a fellow student, whom I met through friends at the University of Florida. He was a “nice guy”, an engineering student who was smart, handsome and fun – until he wasn’t.

A group of friends had gone to a Gator game as we always did on Saturdays and afterwards, he and I went back to my apartment. Suddenly, once inside, he was all over me. Luckily, I hadn’t been drinking. From the moment he began mauling me, I fought back ferociously.

“What’s wrong with you?! STOP!!” I commanded. I tried to reason but he appeared possessed and laughed, like it was a game. It was NOT a game for me. I was fearful and furious at the same time. I was shocked this was happening and that I couldn’t stop it.

Finally, I suspect due to his drunken state, he got worn out and realized I was NOT giving in. I got louder too with my pleas to stop, hoping people in the next apartment would hear me. Perhaps that scared him off.

Finally, he left. I was exhausted and dumbfounded. I couldn’t believe what had happened – and I was grateful for what had not happened.

I never told anyone about this assault, till now. When my husband came home from work, I told him while I cried – for all of us – for the thousands of victims of sexual assault, the vast majority of whom are little girls and women.

Let’s be clear. It was not my fault nor is it any woman’s fault if she is raped or assaulted. But our culture makes women believe they are responsible – because of the clothing they wear; the drinks they have; or the sidewalk they take home. It is never a woman’s fault when she says no. No means no – ALWAYS.

If you have been the victim of sexual abuse, as a child or as an adult, and you haven’t spoken to anyone about it, I encourage you to do so. It is one of the worst traumas a child or adult can experience in her or his life. There is help available. Remember, it’s not your fault.

For Adults

National Sexual Violence Resource Center

RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network)

National Sexual Assault Hotline – 1-800-656-4673

Victim Service Center of Central Florida

National Intimate Parter Sexual Violence Survey – 2010

For children, there are trained teams to help abused children and their families investigate, prosecute and recover from sexual abuse.

Orange County

Children’s Advocacy Center / The Healing Tree Counseling

Seminole County

Kid’s House

*Statistics cited are from the CDC and National Intimate Partner Sexual Violence Survey

Raise your hand if you’ve ever stayed too long. Ahhh. Most hands just went up. Mine included.

If we’re being honest, most of us have lingered in a bad relationship or toxic job when we knew it was time to go.

Like that frog in boiling water, we notice it’s getting warmer, even hot, but our tolerance grows. Our fears or feelings of being overwhelmed trap us. And pretty soon – our goose (or frog) is cooked.

How do you know when it’s time to get out? If it is time, that answer has probably been speaking to you in quiet moments – if you’re listening. If you’re not listening, it may show up as illness (colds, upset stomach, anxiety, stress, depression, panic attacks – or worse).

I’ve found myself over-staying a few times in my life.  Once was during my first job out of college.  I was highly idealistic and while I actually loved the work, I didn’t like how the boss ran the company. I thought I knew better than he did, on well, everything.

I complained about him a lot: he didn’t treat employees or vendors right; he should have done this; he shouldn’t have done that.

One evening, when I was complaining again, a friend took a napkin and drew the following:

“Here’s the boss. Here you are. There’s the door.”

I looked at the napkin, then at him. “Darn. He’s right.”

He continued, “If you can make your agenda, his agenda, then great. Stay.”

Or, if I could remember he can run the company he built any way he chooses…stay. If I couldn’t… there’s the door. Go start my own company.

I decided to stay a while longer but ultimately got out. My remaining time was far more pleasant and productive and I left on a good note (important).

Many years later, I got similar personal advice that helped me “get out”. My ex-husband and I had divorced but continued to stay involved for a few years afterwards. It wasn’t healthy. It wasn’t committed. People get divorced for a reason.

After complaining about this on-again, off-again relationship, another therapist said to me, “What are you doing? Get in or get out.”

I thought about it. “What was I doing?” The non-relationship was going nowhere and it was time to end it. So I did. I GOT OUT. For good – truly for my own good.

Next, I wrote down in detail, the kind of man I wanted in my life. I described his personality, interests, looks, what “our” house looked like, and that we’d have kids, cats and lots of love.

Three months later, I was set up on a blind date with my now husband. We dated for five years and just celebrated 13 years of marriage. He is the guy I described – honest, kind, funny, smart, loves kids and cats. He’s a great dad and my best friend. We also have the type of relationship I envisioned – and worked for: honest, healthy, committed.

There is power in getting clear and getting out – so you can get ALL IN!

IMPORTANT: For many, it is not as easy as deciding to leave and then doing it. There can be concerns about safety, finances, children’s well-being or other things. Still, getting clear about what is best for all is an important first step.

 

 

 

It took me several career iterations to get on my right life’s path – becoming a mental health counselor.  But for as long as I can recall, I’ve felt “a calling” to be in a helping profession. How long?  Since I was 13 years old.

Recently I ran across a page from a football program in 1972 (complete with coffee stains), when I was part of a Pop Warner Football jamboree. My picture appeared along with a couple of paragraphs, which read in part:

“I am 13 years old…I’m considering going into the field of psychology. I would like to be a social worker or guidance counselor…”

I have no idea how I knew what the field of psychology was, or what a social worker did, but I knew. And I wanted to be one.

For each of us, finding our purpose, our calling or right life work, is critical to our happiness and health.  As they say, if you find work you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.  Because when you use your gifts and talents, you get filled up – versus feeling drained by work that doesn’t suit you. Or perhaps the work is on target but the environment and the people aren’t your tribe.

The good news is, it’s never too late to change.  As I’ve been writing my book on “Reinvention”, helping women find their bliss or true calling, I have spoken to women in their 20’s to their 60’s (so far).  Reinvention is a lifelong process and one can begin at any age. All the women I’ve interviewed report being far happier since they took the plunge to change – to reinvent. (Stay tuned for updates.)

There are many good books and resources on the topic, but an old classic is “What Color is Your Parachute?” by Richard Bolles. In it he talks about clues to finding your right life work and one is: “Where do you get your natural enthusiasm? The greek root word for “enthusiasm” is “en theos” or “God in you”.  Your God-given gifts and talents can be used to make the world better and to fill your heart.

Whether you believe “enthusiasm” is God-given or just happenstance, your passion, your enthusiasm, what is as easy as breathing for you – are all clues to what you’re best suited to do in the world of work. It’s what will make you most successful and happiest.

If you are thinking about making a change, below are a few more books that I have used over the years with clients.  I would also encourage you to search your own past for clues.  What did you love to do when you were younger? What have people always told you you were good at? What did you want to be when you were 13?

A Few Good Books on Finding Your Right Life Work

  • What Color is Your Parachute?, Richard Nelson Bolles
  • Zen and the Art of Making a Living, Laurence G. Boldt
  • Finding the Hat that Fits, John Caple
  • The Pathfinder: How to Choose or Change Your Career for a Lifetime of Satisfaction and Success, Nicholas Lore
  • Life Makeovers, Cheryl Richardson
  • Do What you Love, The Money Will Follow, Marsha Sinetar
  • Finding Your Way, Dan Webster and Randy Gravitt

My father died the morning of my wedding.

It happened almost one year after my mother had died, on a cool December morning. The fact that his death followed a long illness and a quick and steep decline, didn’t make it much easier.  A little, but it was still my dad and he wouldn’t be “giving me away”.

Why am I sharing this story?  Because what happened next changed EVERYTHING.

I had gone for a run that morning and when I returned home, my sister, several family members and my husband-to-be, were all standing in my driveway. I knew. But I didn’t want to believe…  I looked at my sister, terrified.  Please, NO.

She started to cry and said, “Oh, Jillie, I’m so sorry.”  I collapsed.  My soon-to-be-husband, picked me up and practically carried me to the backyard.  What he said next instantly changed everything.  I went from devastation to near elation. From deep sadness to joy.

It was the first time I experienced the miracle of a counseling tool known as “reframing”.

He took my face in his hands and said, “Jill, now your mom and dad can be together at the wedding.”

Instantly, it all seemed right.  Daddy had been in a wheelchair for four years since a stroke and he was suffering. And I know he deeply missed my mother, his beloved wife of 63 years.

Now, he would be with her at the wedding, looking down and smiling.  They’d be hugging and holding each other.  I could picture them together and it genuinely made me happy. (They are pictured here.)

And my dad would be free of the wheelchair and his suffering.   Known as “the Colonel”, this retired air force officer was always brave, strong and proud.  He’d be that way again.

Same event. Different meaning. And that’s how reframing works.  It takes an event or a memory and helps the person suffering change the meaning they give to it.

The event didn’t change – my father still passed away. I would still miss him. But now I could also be happy to imagine him with my mother, his wife, together, both of them free from pain.  Same event. Different meaning.  Completely different thoughts, emotions and behavior.  Instantly.

I use narrative therapy and reframing in my therapy practice, along with other tools, because I have experienced the transformative power personally.  I would love to help you if there is something that is hurting or plaguing you.

 

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