Things I learned being in private practice and helping others during the unexpected

Are you feeling like you are on a roller coaster? I do.  You already know I don’t care for flying so you guessed it. Not a fan of roller coasters. If I did like them, I imagine it might look something like this.  Weeks before going to visit an amusement park I’d be on the website looking at all the options.  YouTube videos about them?  Yup, I’d be checking all those out. The day leading up to traveling to the park I’d be giddy. Giddy like the butterflies you had when you were little, and it was Christmas Eve. Getting to the park when it opened would be a must. I would not care how long the lines were (unless it was in Florida anytime between April and October. Seriously, waiting in lines during those months can be brutal). My turn would come, and I’d run to my “car” jumping in and stoked my seatbelt would be locked and away it would go.  The laughs, the screams, my hair flying all over in the wind. Loving every minute and wishing it would go around again and again.

Here’s the thing.  I feel like I’m on a roller coaster now and I did not choose to get on it.  Inside I’m saying please let me get off, but it keeps going around and around. Did you ever have that feeling?  The one when you are going through something, holding on trying to remember your belly breathing. Your head tells you, “I’ve got you” when literally feel your heart pounding from your chest. You look down and see if it is moving up and down.  It would make sense if you are feeling that way now.  But here’s the thing.  Just as a roller coaster ends, so will this current uncomfortable feeling.

As a therapist in private practice for twenty years I’ve seen strength, courage, fear, devastation and rebuilding of individuals, couples, and families when unexpected life roller coasters happened.

We all have a superpower. After much reflection and journaling at a personal development conference, I leaned into that one of mine is advocacy.  In my practice, a common thread that I advocate for is connecting and having a healthy tribe.  As people bravely schedule with my office, I share with them we are mutually interviewing each other, and we will share at the end if we see each other as being a good fit. It may sound simple, but for many, this true open dialogue is one of their challenges, because it’s hard to do.  They may avoid hard talks.  I share that when people listen to their bravest parts within them screaming out that they want change is when they come to the office.  My office as well as the therapeutic relationship needs to foster a space to improve quality of life.  You see, most often people enter therapy because something has either happened or is happening to them either they didn’t expect, are struggling to accept, or currently don’t know how to navigate what is/has occurred.  After 20 years of doing this work, I know who I am good at working with.  I am honest and will not hesitate to say out loud who I am not best to work with.  I value the relationships I have with peers in the community and will refer to them as needed.  One mission of my office is to partner with someone(s) to create improvement in the quality of their current life.

At the time of 9/11 I was in a group practice.  Trauma occurred in our country.  Trauma.  A word that I find either creates discomfort for some or for others is a validating word almost like none other.  Around that time, I was receiving mentorship from a well-respected psychologist locally.  I had a session with him the week after and we spent time processing the day. He said something to me I’ve stored in my pocket.  One of those lessons you hear from someone and you just know I’ll be holding onto this wisdom. He said something to the effect of anything that happens to you that you don’t expect to happen is a trauma. You put the experience on a scale of 1 to 10 to get a settling of where it is. Working a long day and then hoping when I get home, I get to score that ice cream in the freezer. Then I get home and see someone in the family has eaten it,  is probably one or two. And I love ice cream.  And then we talked about the impact of 911 on myself, my patients, our country.  This wisdom was so fitting as you use a similar one in EMDR treatment.

Last Friday was a different level of hard for me then the week before. I was aware what was going on with pandemic.  To some it may feel like a world roller coaster we are on but did not get in line for!  Although I have cautiously been mindful to be informed without self-flooding it still is a hard life event to process. So many areas of our lives feel, look, and are turning and winding without a known of when it will stop.  Finally, at 4 o’clock in the afternoon I needed to be reminded what the theme to the homepage of my website was, “permission to pause.”  So, with that I left to go on a drive to allow space to breathe and reflection.

Last week I set up teletherapy for my office for this crisis time.  Saying that statement, writing it feels hard. Almost a disloyalty to my office. The space I want to bring a sense of calm, emotional safety and connection, a place to be however you are in that moment.

I drove away from my building remembering the vision of my office is to partner with a brave person who reached to look for some shift in the quality of their life.  A huge value drilled into you as you go through graduate school is meet the person where they are at.  Allow yourself to say that out loud.  Meet someone where they are at.  That message seems simple yet so helpful right now.  Do you have a spouse concerned about their job and household finances?  Are you home with your children for the first time in a decade and overwhelmed?  Are your aging parents in a state far from you and you feel their vulnerability like pain in your head.  As a therapist, a partner, an adult child, meet someone where they are at.

Since I have been in practice I worked with people as they experienced 9/11, Hurricane Charley and the economic crash of 2008.  All our experiences, emotions, situations differ.  I will share some themes I saw in hope the survivors of these past traumas can shed some wisdom, hope, aha moments to us as we navigate this uncertain roller coaster.

Flexibility invites calm

For many, up until several weeks ago we may have some sense of what our day to day looked like.  You knew your work hours.  Kids knew school hours.  Bedtime may have had a structured time.  You went to the grocery store perhaps on a certain day and since that is a weekly event (even more than once in some homes) you knew generally where the items where you needed.  For some moms and dads going to the store alone was a much-needed respite when life was so busy.  Your red carpet to life was pulled out.

Life may feel like a push- pull right now.  I get it.  You’re pulling perhaps to pull on to your norm.  It worked before.  Normalcy fosters consistency which can foster emotional calm. You spent since last summer figuring out how to balance life.  Your instant pot meals in hand, birthday parties planned, bedtime routine mastered. The world is pulling you to change those things that worked.  What may have felt like an achieved “some” level of balance now is more like a tornado.  Please drop the rope.  For now.  The more we push it invites a pull. I know it’s hard.  Let go of what you can and practice flexibility.  Not on everything.  I’m not saying ice cream for breakfast, no kid baths for days, and more ice cream for dinner.  But maybe some things you can allow breathing space for you.  Exploring and practicing this was vital in the work I did during past crises with people in my practice.  If permitted, take a walk tonight or set aside some alone time, even 10 minutes and create a list of areas you can allow flexibility.  You allowing it feels empowering.

Connect, share, repeat

We all handle stress and anxiety differently. Some of us are outward expressionists while others retreat inward.  I saw this pattern with couples during 9/11 and the 2008 recession. Some couples were equipped to go deep and share their most vulnerable thoughts while others pushed down those thoughts and over time some came out as frustrations and resentments.  If being vulnerable feels hard and uncomfortable, you are not alone.  Please watch, Brene Browns “A Call to Courage” on Netflix. Individuals (men and women) as well as couples I see have appreciated it and many say it is worth a second or third viewing. Take an inward look and explore.  Ask yourself the question, “under times of distress do I go inward or outward?”  If inward, consider approaching your partner to share that.  Watch the special together.

Often during times of crisis, some isolate so not to burden or the ones we love.  Here’s the thing, we need to be careful we are not making that choice for them.  Instead, if you have a family member/friend you want to share with ask them if they are available to give you some time.  Go a step further and share with them to please let you know if they only can give you a few minutes or if there is a better day to connect.  Connection may look different.  During the recession of 2008 and I was working with families, many men left the area to find employment.  FaceTime had not started.  Uncertainty was heavy and real.  We needed to be creative.  Families read books together on the phone.  Packages of drawings were sent.  The parent who temporarily relocated kept a daily journal writing a letter to their partner and child and those who stayed locally I asked them to do the same.  Loneliness can feel heavy with distancing.  Connection is an internal feeling.  How you can create, spark, tap into it can change.  Stay focused on the feeling you need and long for and explore ways to get it.

Write in a gratitude journal daily.

When I had my own unexpected health challenge in 2016, a dear friend encouraged me to write in a gratitude journal.  Don’t get me wrong, I know and value the emotional benefits practicing gratitude brings.  However, at that life space time it felt so hard.  I struggled to do it.  I found a blank notebook and a pen and wrote a commitment, a promise to myself to write them daily. Some days it was easier and others I sat there for what felt like hours to find them. But I made that promise.

As days continue to pass, I am hearing people share they are experiencing challenges falling asleep.  It’s as if the energizer bunny decided to throw a party in their head!  If the business of life before interfered with taking calm space before bed, please build in 10-15 minutes now.  You don’t need a fancy journal.  What you do need is a quiet space you can claim as your own, permission and ownership to take time for you, a notebook or pad of paper and a pen.  Place the date on the top of each entry.  One thing that can be powerful with journals is looking back to see your shifts, the things that helped, awareness of possible mood triggers.  This journal is to be intentional with gratitude.  Feel like you’re on a scavenger hunt to find it now where before you could easily write a full list of things you were grateful for?  I hear you. Go on that scavenger hunt.  Did you watch a movie with your kids, chomping on popcorn and laughed out loud?  Do you have a dog that made an appearance during online school today?  Are you working from home and appreciating not going to the dry cleaners this week?  This may seem small but allow them to be big and be a gratitude space for you now.

I returned to my office after my permission to pause.  I had several emails and voicemail messages from individuals requesting they be able to do sessions online.  With a huge exhale I reminded myself to be flexible even when initially it may be uncomfortable.  Meet people where they are at.  Connection is so necessary.  I’m a cheerleader of self-advocacy.  Be grateful.  I have been doing video sessions online.  Will I do it the rest of my career?  I do not know, and I do not have to know.  What I do know is that if you are in need of support, connection is something you are missing, guidance is needed to navigate hard conversation, or any other goal is pulling at you reach out to me at www.heleneshute.com

or 239-848-2022 to schedule. 

 



helene@heleneshute.com
239-848-2022

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