Overwhelm.

bicchiere

o-ver-whelm (v.): to overcome completely in mind or feeling; to overpower, especially with superior forces; destroy, crush; to cover, bury, or drown beneath a mass of something; defeat completely; to give too much of a thing to “someone;” to inundate.

Harsh words when they’re all put together like that – overwhelming in their own right. But I think I can confidently profess that this has been the state of affairs as of late, for me individually, and surely for our country and the world as a whole. Just trying to stay informed and aware of all that is happening in our environment, and our social and political culture is overwhelming – leaving ripples of confusion, doubt, fear, anger, grief, and uncertainty as to where to turn. Where to place our energies…in what direction and toward what end? How, when, and in what order? What’s the hierarchy? The priority? It might all be important – but trying to do it all at once can leave us paralyzed and not able to help anyone, least of all ourselves.

As a psychotherapist, I operate mostly on the micro level, 1:1 with the individuals I work with. I don’t think there’s one way, and certainly no one “right” way to digest and try to make meaning of the world – of our lives, our relationships, our contributions. But for me, as least at this particular juncture of my life – what I am giving back happens mostly on the individual level. In order for me to do that, I have to tend to my own internal chaos and overwhelm as best I can, so that I am able to show up with presence and energy to hold space and share in relationship with those that I work with. My role at the Trauma Center is also expanding: as a teacher, trainer, and supervisor – with more potential for a macro influence, and I look forward to all the lessons and opportunities that are to come. But for now, for today…in this particular offering, I’ll speak more to healing and giving voice to our inner wounds as a way to ultimately contribute to the collective.

Chani Nicholas offers a beautiful perspective on this (I’ve been reading and resonating with a lot from her lately):

“The connection between the pains of our past and our present is begging to be realized at every turn. Repeatedly demanding our exhausted attention. We must make these connections in order to stop reliving them…this [type] of transformation is the kind that brings us to the edge of our emptiness. To the brink of our existence. To our knees. So that we might understand just how massive our work here [on earth] is. So that we might understand how it is the only thing worth doing. We must find a way, find many ways, find all the possible ways in which to heal ourselves and the world.”

And since our collective attention is often so very exhausted, it’s important not to get overwhelmed in our efforts to find all the different ways to heal – to not get exhausted in our attempts to find ways to think about and live into this greater responsibility to our personal and collective healing. In the immediate wake of my miscarriage 7 weeks ago, I was surprisingly very clear in what I needed…at least at first. Luckily, we had grandparents available to watch my almost 2 year old (navigating all of this while being a mother of a toddler is a very unique type of overwhelm, with further rich content to explore at a later date…). So with childcare in place, I was then given space to dip into what I knew I needed: solitude; reflection; writing; music; and yoga. Taking a moment now to remember and reflect upon the fact that when it really came down to it – in the moment, I did know exactly what I needed. For me, and perhaps for others, that doesn’t always come easily. Not only knowing what you need; but trusting that you know what you need, that you know what works for you. I have a tendency to want and try to do it all, and sometimes get confused and uncertain as to what I “should” be doing, or what would be “best”: Massage? Accupuncture? Sound healing circles? Women’s Equinox gathering? Astrology? Herbs and teas? Essential oils? Yoga? Swimming? Therapy? I’m sure the list can go on…

Sources of distress and self-doubt are so often due in part to some outward preoccupation with the external parts of ourselves, others, and the word as a whole. And I’ve been reminded of this a lot lately. Both in how our internal self is projected, viewed, judged, interpreted or valued, and in the expectations that we place on other people, places, and experiences. The way that adjectives such as “right, wrong, good, and bad” come into play, and how very disappointed we can get when our expectations of both ourselves and others fall flat. The physical, emotional, and spiritual energy it takes to navigate these processes, and be bombarded with questions such as: How am I perceived by others? Will I be accepted?…and further more, authentically and genuinely understood? Am I a “good” friend, daughter, sister, wife, mother? How should I be handling tantrums with my toddler? What is the “right” way? What is the “best” way? What is the “best” way to take care of myself? What does my marriage “look” like?….and if it looks different from others’, does that mean something’s “wrong” with mine? Being disappointed when someone didn’t say the “right” thing to me at exactly the “right” time, etc. All those kinds of questions. Questions that I thought I had already gone through in middle school, of which the adult versions feel even more unsettling.

A common denominator in most of these questions is that “outward-directed-ness,” as well as the almost always absent sense of the “true inner self” in the present moment. A preoccupation and analysis paralysis of the “What could/would/will this mean or look like”/ “What is the right way” vs. “What is the now?” / “Can I get connected to myself in this moment and then maybe go from there?” Get connected with my “now,” tend to my “now” in the way that I instinctually know how, and then be able to show up and participate with other people’s “nows” – with the world’s evolving and changing “nows,” and contribute in perhaps a more wholehearted way. I just don’t know how effectively we can do all that without looking at our personal internal wounds, and what needs healing and tending to. What needs tending to in a way that is nurturing and kind, and not critical, comparative, ranking, prescriptive, or judgmental (i.e.: that was the “wrong” way; this is the “right” way; that is the “best” way; this thing/ that person/ those words will make you feel “better”, etc.)

My “now” consists of sitting next to my husband on a train to New York City for a wedding, while my son is with his grandparents. Typing and listing to music. Grappling with a still somewhat fresh and recent loss, and trying to pick up all the pieces. All as I simultaneously (there-in lies the challenge) take care of my son, work, show up for my family and friends, tend house, and try to take care of myself, while my husband has been traveling 6 out of the last 12 days on 2 separate trips, and I’ve been sick for 11 of them. So sick in fact that I lost my voice yesterday, and my husband lost his today (he got sick too). So we’re on our way into a shared weekend together and we have laryngitis – we literally can’t speak. And I wonder…if perhaps, that’s just what we need. Sometimes words can get in the way (especially for an over-processor like me…).

A few blogs ago I spoke of the importance of naming things. And I still deeply hold true to that belief – giving voice, awareness, and meaning to our thoughts, feelings, and experiences allows for ownership, legitimacy, empowerment, and connection. But sometimes language can force us to label something that maybe doesn’t need to be labeled, or succumb to rank or judgment. Language has limitations, even for the most eloquent of speakers, and could, itself, be a source of disappointment if something isn’t said or expressed in the way we had hoped it would be. And when we step away from language, we actually step into an entirely different part of the brain – the part that allows for space and capacity to notice what is “feel-able” in our bodies – to get in touch with that deeply innate sense of self, that sense of “I-ness,” and access a way of embodiment that offers opportunity to be fully present in this exact “now.” Herein lies so much of the fundamental core components of the type of yoga (Trauma Center Trauma Sensitive Yoga, TCTSY) that I offer my clients. It’s exciting to see how its’ theoretical and neurobiological underpinnings have a way of being applied to so many parts of our lives (more food for thought for another time….).

Could these next couple of days encourage a type of presence that perhaps can be more easily accessed through present moment embodiment, without distractions and demands of past narratives; anticipation and predictions of the future; preoccupation around perceptions, and limitations of language? And even still, could this reminder stick around when my vocal chords start working again? As with so much of the work that is ours to do…the unfinished work has a way of cycling back to us…urging us to look again, to look deeper…even when we look away, gently nudging us to look back again.

And the work may never be “done,” but it may start to look and feel differently. And maybe, just maybe have a lighter, more manageable quality to it. A kind of: “Oh yeah, you again – I remember you…I got this.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Through the shadows lies a Rose

beach roseTrauma and loss have no bounds. You can’t be shielded from them because the sun is shining, or because the subtle ocean breeze is causing the waves to ripple and dance on the water, or even by your own sweet boy, cherub-like as he is, laughing and splashing in the muddy puddles of the harbor. A “perfect” day in anyone’s book. And the last day that we were a family of four. Not knowing in that exact moment, that you had already left us, and I was only carrying the shadow your soul left behind. The juxtaposition of joyous light and heart-wrenching darkness couldn’t be more poignant.

As I continue to process this loss, I hope to create space and grant permission for others to share and voice similar losses – the ones we’re supposed to be quiet about; the ones that others can never fully understand unless they too have had such a loss; the ones that happened early – and maybe to some, don’t “warrant” the grief that is felt – those losses. The ones where you feel a gut-wrenching sadness and emptiness, in spite of what anyone has to say about it.  A palpable, paralyzing, crushing emptiness. In the past few days, I have received different kinds of support, or attempts at support, from others – all well intentioned, but some not very helpful or supportive at all. And as I have bravely learned to do over time – through a lot of trips and falls; self-doubt; self-blame; spinning and spiraling – I am choosing to take what feels supportive and healing, and leave behind what doesn’t. Leave behind any words that were hurtful, even if they weren’t meant to be; any gazes that were filled with pity…and build myself back up the only way I ever truly have known how: by creating space (physically and emotionally), and granting myself permission to feel whatever it is that I am feeling. To feel all of it, without judgment – to honor it, look at it, integrate it into the essence of my being, and give myself time to process this loss – surrounding myself with people and tools that are supportive and useful to me. In this particular moment: listening to soulful music – alone – with my thoughts, feelings and a vehicle to release and honor them, at a quiet table, in a quiet café, by myself.

A dear friend sent me this quote, which resonated, so I chose to grab onto it and let it be a part of this healing process – a part of my artillery, so to speak: “The wound is the place where the Light enters you.” ~Rumi. What a beautiful offering to consider. That perhaps only with and through the wound itself, will we have access to a very particular, very powerful kind of Light that we may not have otherwise had access to. The solar eclipse, also being referenced as the “Great American Eclipse,” took place on Monday. Such an interesting time for me to be processing this loss. Another supportive insight that crossed my path, included this offering by Chani Nicholas: “Eclipse season is a time when endings and beginnings occur abruptly. A time when we get to witness the parts of ourselves that we normally wouldn’t. The parts that live in the shadows. The parts that need healing the most. Eclipse season is a time when the events of our lives tend to take on a more fated quality. What occurs now has heightened importance.” I’m starting to feel that in a very palpable way. The sadness and loss are still there, but what has joined it is a new intentionality – a more deliberate, purposeful way of choosing and living. For with choice, comes power:  power and healing – taking a stand – choosing to put one foot in front of the other – not mindlessly, but with deep, authentic, intention. Choosing not only where to put each foot, but how strong or lightly to step on the ground and at what pace; which direction and toward what shape; and surrounded by what types and kinds of support. Getting to choose all of those things is empowering and at the very core of healing, regardless of what kind of trauma or loss you have endured.

Cheryl Strayed has this to say about feeling “stuck” in grief and loss: “This is how you get unstuck. You reach. Not so you can walk away from the [loss], but so you can live the life that is yours – the one that includes the sad loss…but is not arrested by it. Nobody will protect you from your suffering. It’s just there, and you have to survive it. You have to endure it. You have to live through it and love it and move on and be better for it. And run as far as you can in the direction of your best and happiest dreams across the bridge that was built by your own desire to heal.” Another dear dear friend sent me the book where this passage resides. It appeared on my doorstep just a few days after the loss. And this was a support that I eagerly dove into, wrapped around me, and allowed its words to leave an imprint – to reside within. Making choices like that is how I will get to that bridge – the bridge on the other side of this loss.

But the loss will not be forgotten. It is a part of me now. A part of my fabric. We named the baby Rose. She has a song too.   And I am certain her memory will endure – maybe at times with a soft, supportive essence, and other times with a guttural void. And I will welcome them both. They can both exist in how I hold her memory; how I hold this loss. The light and the dark. The Rose beyond the shadow.

On Writing…(and integration).

WritingThough I’ve “kept up” with my writing in other forms – in pieces and paragraphs here and there – I haven’t written a “blog” in while. Something I’ve always known about myself, though maybe never explicitly identified, is my desire and drive to write. During my awkward, growing-into-myself-teenage years, I remember battling this draw to art; to the artist/poet/musician – to those that “created” – coupled with a belief that I was not, nor could I be “that.” I was smart. I studied a lot. I was a good swimmer and a decent runner. But I didn’t think I would “fit in” in a creative writing class, because I didn’t think I had anything creative-enough to contribute. In college, this morphed some, and my ideas of who and I am what I could “be,” “do,” or “make” expanded a bit. I declared writing as my minor and finally did take some creative writing and poetry classes. Later in college I took guitar lessons (though, my fingers creaked and cringed just to make a “C” chord), and even a painting class. I used to like to rip up pictures from magazines and paste them together, using pastels with my fingers to smear it all together. But I didn’t think it was art. And a decade and a half after graduating from college, my thoughts on all of this – this idea of making/creating/crafting continue to evolve. But even still, there remained limitations and questions in my understanding. What is “art?” Who can be considered an “artist?” And what about “craft?” I’ve often heard writing referenced as a “craft,” and certainly as a “hobby.” Who are the people compelled to be “artists,” or “makers” – and could I finally be one? There are so many nourishing ways to make and create: to make a meal; to sow and reap food from the ground; to move one’s body making “shapes” in the form of dance, or yoga, or other movements. And as a new mother, something I continue to sit with in humility and grace is the profundity of perhaps the most surreal “making” of them all: creating a life that was not there before. The miracle of that exchange is something that still leaves me in awe…and perhaps is food for another “blog.”

But back to writing. I stumbled across this offering, which presented the question of whether or not writing was an “art” or a “craft” – “A writer who is an artist is one who not only creates something from nothing, but creates something unique from nothing. But…a writer cannot accomplish this without…having learned the craft.” I tend to gravitate toward Moira’s thoughts on this, honoring writing as an art form. And as a psychotherapist, though “body-based” in training and approach, I believe there is something profoundly important in the ability to name things – to make our best efforts with the limited capacity of the English language to bring awareness, meaning, and power to the thoughts and feelings we possess, and to our understanding and interpretations of concepts and beliefs. There is also ownership, legitimacy, empowerment, and connection in declaring such thoughts and understandings as “truths” (knowing of course that truths evolve, morph, and expand) – but to be able to say: “This happened to me,” or “Oh really? That happened to me too,” or “I’m a writer,” an “artist,” a “trauma survivor.” When we name things, or declare them to be true – they are then given permission to exist. And with permission, a myriad of effects ripple from that declaration and identification. Perhaps, “simply,” in just giving oneself allowance to feel something, most especially something uncomfortable or distressing. To truly grant oneself permission to feel all of it, without judgment or shame, frees up space for that thought or feeling to go – space for it to move, away perhaps, or to linger if more processing time is needed – but space, at minimum, for it to exist – separate from you – so that it can be looked at with honor and legitimacy. Pushing that thought or feeling down, keeping it in, holding it back, repressing it in some way, doesn’t make it go away or even allow it to dissipate, but rather, gives it the roots to burrow and fester. And nothing good comes from that. More on “space” and what that means/feels/looks like at another time. Today’s offering is one of choice, declaration, and integration – and all that comes from those actions.

A beautiful writer I was recently drawn to again, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, eloquently professes a desire to “be at peace with myself.” She speaks about the “shape” of her life: having a family, and a “craft” – writing, that are of utmost importance to her, as well as wanting “to give and take from family; to share with friends and community; to carry out my obligations to man and to the world, as a woman, as an artist, as a citizen.”   She goes onto say that she wants a “singleness of eye, a purity of intention, a central core to my life that will enable me to carry out these obligations and activities as well as I can.” She speaks of wanting to “live in grace” – not in a theological sense – but rather, “an inner harmony, essentially spiritual, which can be translated into outward harmony;” seeking what Socrates said: “May the outward and inward man be at one.” To me, a simple but powerful word that summarizes these intentions is: integration.

When I chose the name of my practice, Integrative Wellness Therapies, the word integrative held a few different meanings. At its most basic, it suggests an integration of treatment approaches: of psychotherapy and body-based services. But a deeper look holds a fundamental core intention that many of us desire: to live an integrated life – one that offers balance to work, relationships, and social dynamics and responsibilities; as well as, but possibility not identified as readily: to be an integrated person – piecing and bridging together all of our “parts” – our past and present, our triumphs and sorrows. The most basic definition of “integrate” is to:

  • “combine one thing with another so that they become a whole; come into equal participation.”

The definition of “integration” offers even more for us to consider:

  • “the action or process of integrating; the intermixing of people or groups previously segregated; [medically]: the coordination of processes in the nervous system, including diverse sensory information and motor impulses; [psychologically]: the process by which a well-balanced psyche becomes whole as the developing ego organizes itself, and the state that results, or that treatment seeks to create or restore, counters the fragmenting effect of defense mechanisms.”

Now, there’s a lot here – and perhaps, material for yet another “blog” (I’ve got my work cut out now!). But it’s core message is simple: to bring together.

As I venture to “bring together” all that I have learned personally and clinically to present offerings to be read and considered – to merge and meld different ways of thinking and ideas that different people have had; the desire to write – to tap into my “craft” – my “art,” even – feels more significant than it ever has before.   And perhaps, writing is the “art of bringing things together.”  And in honor of the significance in “naming things,” I would like to name and give voice to my calling, not only as a healer and helper, but also, as a writer – as an artist.

Something I look forward to breathing and writing into more.

Thank you, in advance, for taking the time to read and sift through some of these thoughts with me. Without a reader, words don’t hold as much meaning.

With humble gratitude,

Emily

Time to Move

Time to MoveThis past Sunday, I went for a walk with friends at the habitat and wildlife sanctuary in Belmont. After a small hike, we were able to lie on the grass in the garden and feel the warmth of the sun on our bodies. It was amazing how much this small action affected our moods and lifted our spirits. Our bodies were given the space to move again, after such a long winter of being covered, sheltered and cooped up. It felt like we were breathing in a whole new way, which is essentially what took place. Humans are designed to move. And movement is actually the muscles’ way of breathing. When we move our muscles, fresh oxygenated blood travels throughout our body, and clears away stagnant energy and toxins. It also elevates mood enhancing chemicals and hormones.

Winter often causes us to become more sedentary. However, even with the coming of Spring, many of us are still confined to office jobs that promote sedentary habits. Below is a diagram that shows the effects of prolonged sitting on the body:

The Health Hazards of Sitting

Here’s a summary of how prolonged sitting has been found to effect the body:

  • Blood flow slows down, which creates poor circulation and fluid build up in the legs; muscles become idle, which creates increased insulin (sugar) levels in our blood; bones become soft due to the lack of weight bearing activities; the spinal disks become inflexible; the back, neck, shoulders, and hips become tight, limiting our range of motion; and our abdominal muscles and glutes go unused, growing soft over time.

Among many other benefits, movement:

  • Boosts antioxidants to kill free radicals that damage cells; allows muscles to pump fresh oxygenated blood to the brain, which triggers the release of brain and mood enhancing chemicals; and lubricates the spinal disks, which enables absorption of blood and nutrients into the body.

Luckily, it doesn’t take much to counter some of these effects. The first step is to simply heighten our awareness of how long we are sitting each day. As a general rule of thumb, getting up at least once an hour will help counter the effects of sitting. A great way to guarantee getting up often is to drink a lot of water! Drinking 8 (8 oz.) glasses of water a day is good general guideline. Another great way to calculate how much your particular body needs and guarantee enough water to flush lymph and toxins from your body is to drink half your ideal body weight in ounces of water each day.

Small increments of activity throughout the day will give your body respite from sitting. This may include taking a short walk (or even walking around your home/office when on the phone); taking brief stretching/yoga breaks (some examples illustrated in the diagram above); opting to take the stairs when you can; or walking over to a co-worker’s desk instead of emailing them. Even simply standing for one to two minutes every hour can help counter the effects of sitting! The author of this article sets an alarm every hour as a reminder to get up and move. The sample movement schedule he lists here may seem like a lot, but there are great suggestions on how to add small routines into your day to help keep you moving.

Just considering some of these options without placing any judgment or pressure on yourself is a great place to start. Taking one step at a time, literally placing one foot in front of the other is an easy way to slowly introduce more healthy habits for your mind and body this Spring.

A Slower Pace

IMG_4973It was quite the transition to come back from Mexico a few weeks ago to a frozen-over driveway and mounds of snow. My body was almost in shock, coming from 83 degree weather back to the cold that I had left. It had taken me a few days when I got to Mexico to transition from my hurried life to a slower, relaxed pace. However, coming back to the cold and reality of the “daily grind” felt a bit more abrupt. As much as I wanted to keep a sense of calm and warmth within me, I found it to be challenging.

This is certainly not the first time someone has reflected on the challenges of transitioning back from vacation, attempting to maintain some of the felt sense of relaxation experienced. In fact, one of my previous blog posts spoke of this theme. Ultimately, the hope is to work toward a more integrated and balanced way of living that allows for opportunities of solace and reflection on a more consistent basis.

On this most recent return, I was reminded that life, in general, is constantly in transition. These transitions are not always as obvious as being on a beach in Mexico one day and being knee-deep in the snow the next. Or even as clear as the change in seasons can be. Every day represents an essence of change, as each dark night transitions to the dawn of a new morning. Our minds and bodies are constantly in a state of transition, as well. And therefore, it is important to take notice of the pace we choose to live our lives. Why does clarity of mind and calmness of body seem most possible when we’re “away from it all”? Could it be possible to access this relaxed state of being when we’re “in it all,” immersed in our daily routines?

I venture to say that the pace we set for ourselves on a daily basis is a very important piece. Just take notice once in a while: How fast are you walking? Driving? Breathing? Do your days sometimes feel like a marathon from the moment you step out of bed? Could you consider the possibility that slowing down ever so slightly and becoming a bit more mindful of your mental and physical pace could have significant positive impact? Learning to integrate a slower pace into even the most rushed activities without having to physically relocate yourself in order to do so. Considering the possibility is the first step, if you can give yourself permission that change is possible.

It’s OK to say “No”

its ok to say noIt’s hard to believe that the first month of the New Year is coming to a close.  Many people use the start of the year as an opportunity to reflect on their lives and personal goals, setting intentions or “resolutions” for the New Year ahead.  The hardest thing that I find about setting resolutions is the expectation and pressure that we often put on ourselves in such a limited time frame.  But no matter how you look at it, there’s no denying the element of introspection that traditionally takes place during this time of year.  What’s working well in my life?  Where would it serve me to make some changes?  What do I hope to see for myself this year?  I often urge my clients to remember that we can ask ourselves these questions at any time during the year.  In fact, we should be asking them quite often.  Most importantly, we need to allow ourselves space and room to change and modify our goals, constantly re-assessesing along the way.

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Discover Your Light

Discover Your LightAs we find ourselves in the midst of another Holiday Season, we may be wondering where the time has gone!  Though this season often brings bright lights, joyous music, and the warmth of family and friends, it also brings a certain pace and expectation that may prevent us from being truly present.

No matter your belief system, when we peel back the ribbons, wreaths, candles, and carols, a simple message of gratitude and hope remain. Continue reading