blog · COVID-19 · depression · Mental Health · trauma

Missing Those ~Precedented Times~

If I hear the phrase “unprecedented times” one more time…..

Now let me just preface the remainder of this post by saying that I am eternally grateful that my loved ones have not yet lost their lives to coronavirus, and therefore, my intention is not to come off as inconsiderate or selfish when I say the following:

UGH! I miss going out to eat. Especially Zahavs (to die for) in Philly. My husband and I went on our first date there, celebrated our engagement there, and continue to go there every year on our anniversary, with the exception of last year and most likely this year due to Covid. What I wouldn’t give to be able to hop on a train and head into the city, where I can stroll carefree from one historic monument to the next, enjoying the sights and sounds and, most importantly, the delectable cuisine!

I won’t sit here and go through all of the things that I miss, because it’s not news to anybody. I know we are all on the same boat when it comes to missing our pre-covid lives. But what I will say is this: Being stuck inside has forced me to re-evaluate what I’m doing to take care of myself. If you had asked me a few years ago, I would tell you that self care was going out for an expensive date or a pricey spa day. I would tell you that self care is being able to hop on a plane and go to your favorite vacation spot whenever you want. Or I might tell you that self-care is forcing yourself to wake up at 5 AM so you can get to the gym even though you only got three hours of sleep the entire night.  

Some part of me always believed that self care should have an emphasis on spending money or looking a certain way. But I didn’t have an opportunity to do any of that this past year. I had to actually stay in my house and figure out how I was going to take care of myself, because going on vacations or strolling the mall or hitting the gym excessively was not an option for me. Looking back, I see now that those things weren’t truly self care at all. The only purpose that all of those things served was to be a giant distraction for the painful feelings that were surfacing as a result of my PTSD.

With all of that being said, I thought I might take a moment to share on the blog some of what I’ve been doing to keep myself sane over the last year. It has nothing to do with spending big bucks or trying to make my body meet some impossible standard. Ready? Let’s go!

1. Puzzles. Don’t you roll your eyes at me! I hated puzzles up until this year. You know why I hated them? They forced me to be still and process all of the intense feelings that were coming up. Since quarantine, I have completed about ten 1000-piece puzzles. When I’m having some big feelings, I shut all of my technology down and I work on my puzzle. It keeps my hands busy, and keeps my brain distracted while allowing space to process my emotions at the same time. I highly recommend!

2. Painting. Again with the eye rolls?! I’m telling you, it works! I have zero artistic talent, and that’s putting it nicely. But a few months ago, one of my clients introduced me to “Canvas by Numbers”, which has been so satisfying to work on! Not only do all of the colors soothe my soul, but just like with puzzles, it keeps my hands busy and keeps me focused, while also allowing me to process other things.

3. Epsom salt. People who struggle with anxiety and depression tend to have lower magnesium levels, which can be found in Epsom salt. Magnesium is best absorbed through the skin, and there are now different types of Epsom salts that are infused with essential oils (which is really the icing on the cake if you ask me). If you are not a person who enjoys taking baths, I have also found it to be extremely soothing to put some Epsom salt in a cup and bring it in the shower with you. You can scoop it out with your hands and rub it into your body, using it as an exfoliant. It certainly helps with aches and sore muscles, but also with anxiety and depression. It’s one of those instant fixes for me when I’m really depressed or dissociated.

4. Essential oil diffuser. When I am dissociated or anxious, I need all of my senses on deck to pull me out of the funk that I am in. So my diffuser doesn’t just give off incredible scents, but it’s also a 3-D light-up diffuser. I found it on Amazon! Between the amazing smells from the essential oils and the pretty lights, I find this to be a very grounding tool for me. 

5. Movement. And I don’t mean exercise, although this can include exercise if you would like it to. If you have a yoga mat, roll it out and sit on it. Do some light stretches, some neck rolls, some lower back stretches, and even give yourself a foot massage. There are parts of the feet that are directly connected to your organs (more on that later), which is partially why some spots on your feet are more tender than other spots. There are a million free videos on the internet with guided stretches if you need a bit of assistance. The goal here is not to lose weight or change your body. It is simply to allow the emotions that are stuck inside of you to start moving through you.

6. Animals. Do you have a fish? A cat? A dog? A bearded dragon? Whatever you may have, interact with him/her/them. Yes, even your fish. Feed your fish, clean the tank, walk your dog, etc. When I force myself to put my phone down and play with my dogs, it often pulls me out of my depression and brings some laughter into my days.

This self-care list is drastically different from the list I would have given you two years ago. One of the most important differences between what I did back then and what I do now is that my current self care tools are all about moving through the feelings instead of trying to avoid the feelings. If you’re struggling in these (dare I say it?!) ~unprecedented times~, I hope that this list can help you make a giant leap towards taking better care of yourself. You one thousand percent deserve it!

blog · COVID-19 · suicide · trauma

You Just Want Attention

I don’t know how many times I have said this in the past, nor do I know for how many more months I’ll continue to say this, but damn, times are tough. I have more clients than usual who are in a state of suicidal crisis. While I am by no means negating the prevalence of the coronavirus, I do think it is important to point out that the number of suicide attempts and suicide completions far outweigh the number of covid cases in our world. Again, I say this not to take attention away from the seriousness of the pandemic, but to also point out the suicide pandemic that receives little attention.

As a therapist, I am frequently in contact with other care providers who work with my clients, such as doctors, school counselors, and parents. Lately, when suicidal urges increase among my patients, I find more and more doctors, school counselors, and parents having the same response: “I really think he/she/they is just doing this for attention. I don’t think there is any real threat here.”

This statement really hits me like a ton of bricks….not because I feel judgment towards the people who are saying it, but more or less because I find it to be so sad that we have quite literally shamed, chastised, and ignored people for wanting and needing attention from others. When people tell me that they don’t think suicidal urges are anything to be concerned about because it’s just a plea for attention, my response is usually
“Yes, this very well could be for attention, but that doesn’t make those urges any less real. And why risk it? At the end of the day, if you’re child/patient/student/spouse/parent is saying this for attention, then that means something is very wrong and we do need to give this person the appropriate level of attention and care.”

Why do we do this? Why do we condemn people for wanting and needing attention? Why is it such a bad thing to want attention from someone else.? I’ll be the first one to admit it: I love attention. I need it. I crave it. And most of all, I deserve it. I deserve to have others know when I am hurting so that they can help me. When my pain isn’t heard or validated, my suicidal thoughts and urges only become louder.

Now with this being said, I do acknowledge that there are people who can be manipulative with their words or are seeking attention in dangerous or unacceptable ways. I’m not suggesting we should be okay with this. What I’m suggesting is that we stop writing folks off when they say they feel suicidal. Sure, it could be an attempt at getting attention, but often enough, the attention that people happen to be seeking is much needed, even if it’s not necessarily needed in the form of crisis intervention. And besides, why risk it? Why label a suicidal person as ‘attention-seeking’ and then just wait and see if he/she/they really mean it? 

I’ll say it once more – life is hard right now. Like, really friggin hard. And the more I speak to doctors and school staff and parents and other providers, the more I see how hardened we have become to the needs of others. All I ask is this: let’s stop shaming and criminalizing others for being “attention-seeking”. Instead, let’s ask ourselves what kind of attention this person might need and how/if we might be able to help. Let’s all do our best support each other through this so we can all make it out on the other side of this pandemic happy, healthy, and most importantly, alive.

blog · COVID-19 · Mental Health · self care · trauma

Back to Basics

Are we all drained right now or what? We’ve got election stress, COVID-19 anxiety, and good old seasonal depression waiting for us right around the corner. Not to mention we are all fighting battles that others know nothing about.

As we head into the colder months, when the flu meets COVID and political tension rises as power shifts from one President to another, let this be your gentle reminder to take the time to get back to the basics of your life so that you are well-equipped to handle what may be coming down the road.

-HYDRATE. Drink drink drink – not beer, not wine, not tequila (okay, maybe tequila). Drink water. As much as your body is telling you that you need. Take notice of how often you’re going to the bathroom and if you need to be consuming more water.

-SLEEP. I know, I know, it is so difficult to be in a regular sleeping routine when life feels like such a jumbled mess these days. But the world is going to keep turning, regardless of whether or not you get sleep, and nothing earth-shattering is going to happen if you log off of Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok for a while to give your body some R&R. Or maybe something earth-shattering WILL happen – and you’ll find out about it after you have slept. Try not to feed the urge to know everything that is happening in the world the second that it happens.

MOVE. Gyms have stricter regulations. It’s dark by 5pm. The weather is getting cold. We want blankets, and hot chocolate, and Christmas movies, not long walks or cardio or yoga. But as great as all the holiday vibes can be, sitting on the couch or in bed for hours on end can lead to a black hole of depression that can be so hard to get out of. So break up your day a little – go for a walk, stretch, take a 15 minute mild yoga class, or blast heavy metal music and go crush some weights. Either way, the movement will mitigate symptoms of depression and anxiety and will help your body to feel its best.

EAT. November is upon us so everywhere you look you’re going to see diets and holiday fitness programs all designed to help you avoid weight gain during the holidays. This season of life is stressful enough for all of us, don’t throw a diet into the mix and start detoxing or counting calories. If anything, be intentional about eating. Don’t skip meals. It doesn’t matter if all you did was sit on the couch all day – you still deserve and need to eat.

CONNECT. Make plans with friends and family in whatever way feels safe for you these days. Don’t use COVID as an excuse to feed into your depression and stop connecting with your loved ones.

LOOK AROUND. Shut off the TV. Put down your phone. Look away from your laptops and desktops and smart bikes and smart watches, etc. Look around at your environment. Love up on your partner. Snuggle with your pets. Stand outside for a few extra moments after getting out of your car just to feel the crisp air on your face. Be wherever you’re at. Tune in to your surroundings and let the stress of the world melt away, if only for a moment.

In these difficult times, I struggle to maintain all the of above, especially the last one! But when we feel overwhelmed with life, it’s crucial for us all to get back to the basics of living so that we can build strength for the future. So take the time to rest up everyone, for when we wake, we will get back to trying to change the world!

blog · COVID-19 · Mental Health

5 Tips for Finding the Right Therapist

It’s happening – we are starting to deal with a mental health pandemic as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. I am seeing it in my own patients, I am talking about it with my colleagues, I am seeing it in my friends and family. This pandemic has been going on for half the year, with no ending or solutions in sight. This is causing extreme upticks in anxiety, depression, PTSD, and relationship issues, among many other problems. The more I talk to friends and colleagues in the field, the more often I hear them saying “I’m so booked up with new patients that I have to start turning people away who are looking for therapy.” 

On one hand, the thought of how badly people are struggling from this global pandemic makes my stomach turn. On the other hand, I am glad people are taking care of themselves by getting themselves in to see a therapist! If you are one of those people who are thinking that it might be a good idea to talk to someone, I thought I would share a few tips for finding the right therapist. I know it can be a daunting task – I did not see my very first therapist until around 21 years old and it took me about 4 years of switching from therapist to therapist just trying to find one that I felt like understood me. But don’t let that deter you – most people don’t spend years trying to find the right therapist, although it certainly can take some time. Below are a few tips to keep in mind when trying to find the right professional to help you:

  1. Know the difference between in-network therapists and out-of-network therapists. Out-of-network (OON) therapists do not accept your insurance directly, but that doesn’t mean your insurance will not pay for some or all of it. Know what your insurance will cover before starting the search – check with them about whether or not you have OON benefits and if you do, ask about any deductibles, percentage reimbursed, and out of pocket maximums. Many insurance companies will reimburse you between 70-80% of an OON therapist’s fee. Knowing this information will help you to better refine your search for a therapist who is a good financial fit for you. 
  2. Do not limit yourself to a quick search on Psychology Today or just the list that your insurance company provides you. Don’t get me wrong, Psychology Today is awesome, but especially now that most therapy is virtual, searching on Google will allow you to widen your search to therapists that are just about anywhere in the state. 
  3. Do your research if you think you have found a therapist who you might be interested in. Read their websites, send them an email, ask them a few questions, request a brief phone consultation. Try to get a feel for the therapist before deciding if you want to schedule an appointment. 
  4. Look for therapists who specialize in specific disorders, treatments, or life stressors/events. Be wary of those who say they specialize in just about everything – it’s very important to find someone who knows his/her limitations. Not all of us can be experts in everything. For example, if you are looking for a therapist to treat you for difficulty coping from a miscarriage, you would not want to see a therapist who has no experience or specialty in this area. This could ultimately do you more harm than good. 
  5. Most importantly, remember that this is about you. When you do meet a therapist for the first time, they will be asking you many questions, but it’s also important for you to ask questions of your own. You are the one who gets to decide if you want to establish a relationship with this person – and having a good relationship with your therapist is one of the most important predictors in treatment success. To put it plainly, if you’re not feeling the connection, it’s probably not going to work out. 

Hopefully these tips will help those of you who are thinking about searching for a therapist but have no clue where to begin. And if you’re still on the fence about whether or not you want to follow through – hop off that fence and give yourself the gift of therapy. It took me a while to find the right therapist (it probably would not have taken me nearly as long if I had known the information listed above), but even on my worst days, I can say that my therapist is the best gift I have ever given to myself. 

blog · COVID-19 · Mental Health · self care

Do The Opposite

I really hate being told what to do. 

I mean, who does? Am I right? But believe me when I tell you, I really hate being told what to do. I’m talking like, if you told me not to touch a hot stove, I would probably touch it anyway and endure the burn simply because you just had to go and tell me not to.  I have been this way my entire life and truthfully, my disdain for direction has come back to bite me in the ass at times, i.e., the hot stove situation. But when I look back at the last nearly three decades of my life, I have noticed that my hatred of being told what to do and how to act has ultimately done me much more good than harm. Doing the opposite of what I am told is what I’ve always been best at. It has gotten me through really difficult times in my life and it is one of the main reasons I am now married to the love of my life, have my own practice, my own blog, and a podcast about to launch. I have always gone after what I want with ferocity, letting the doubts and judgements of others serve as fuel to propel me further toward my dreams.

Recently though, I have found myself losing sight of this part of me. Times are so tough – not just for me, but for all of us. COVID-19 has flat-out devastated everyone in one way or another. Most of us went from hugging people on daily basis to fearing for our lives if we get too close to someone. I mean, six months ago – it was considered normal to eat birthday cake after someone else breathed all over it in an attempt to blow out candles. Can you even imagine doing that now? Will we ever be able to do anything like that again? 

This quarantine feels unending. As much as I consider myself to be a homebody, I am so tired of being stuck in the house. In fact, I am so sick of all of it – the conspiracy theories, the death tolls, the unanswered questions about the long-term effects of this virus….just everything. These last few weeks in particular, I have found myself feeling powerless, overwhelmed, and exhausted. I am questioning every professional and personal move I make, on top of feeling nervous every time I cough. I’m constantly looking over my shoulder, waiting for the monster that is COVID-19 to finally catch up with me. Sometimes it feels like it is just a matter of time before it finds me (Hello, anxiety).  I feel distraught for those who have died. I feel sick with worry over the continued increase in rates of abuse and suicide among kids and adults. But what can I do about it?

The voices in my head have been so loud – “You can’t do this. You don’t have what it takes. You’re so dumb. Who are you to think you can change the world?”  And then one day it hit me: I would never in a million years let someone else talk to me like that. I can guarantee that if someone told me I do not have what it takes to succeed, I’d simply use it as fuel!

Don’t tell me I can’t, because I can.

Don’t tell me I won’t, because I will.

Don’t tell me it’s impossible, because I’ll get it done.

This has been my mantra for as long as I can remember, so why on earth am I now giving into my own thoughts of criticism, hopelessness, and doubt? Why am I giving that voice in my head more credit than it deserves? I cannot let these terrible feelings shatter me now, and neither should you.

  • When you feel powerless, do something that makes you feel empowered. Buy yourself some resistance bands and a pair of dumbbells and create your own workout. Go for a bike ride. Create a garden in your backyard. Do something that raises your heartrate and makes you feel strong and alive. 
  • When you feel devastated as you look at your summer wardrobe, realizing you barely got dressed up all summer because everything has been cancelled, make it a point to go out. Even if you think outdoor dining is terrible. Even if you feel annoyed at having to sit outside and sweat while you eat. Do it anyway. Pick out an outfit. Dress up. Go out to eat, sweat your ass off, sweat your makeup off. Who cares? Do it just to remind yourself that you can. 
  • When you feel isolated, surround yourself with people in the ways that you can. Don’t cut people off because we cannot see each other in person. Get creative! Plan virtual game nights with friends (via Tabletopia, the House Party app, etc.), plan FaceTime dates, Zoom dates, Zoom happy hours. If you enjoy going to wine/beer tastings with friends, plan a Zoom wine tasting. It’s not the same but it helps immensely with the isolation.
  • When you feel like your whole life is out of control and the decisions you once used to make for yourself are no longer yours to make due to the pandemic, remind yourself of the things you do have control over. Remind yourself of the things you can still do. You can speak to people, you can still see people, you can get outside and catch some Vitamin D, you can hold your pets, your kids, and some of your loved ones tight, you can move your body, you can get in your car and go for a drive to the beach to 7pm to watch the sun set. Yes, so much has been taken away, but we have to remember that we still have so much power. 

I know I am not the only one who has been feeling really upset and disoriented lately, especially in the wake of COVID. But instead of giving into those feelings, I am working hard to do the opposite. Don’t get me wrong, there are times that I still find myself needing to make space for the devastation that I feel, but these days I am making every effort to not stay stuck in those feelings. I’m channeling the part of me that uses the obstacles as fuel to create a brighter, and more hopeful future. I am doing a little more each and every day to bring back the part of me that has always done the opposite….

…and I invite you to do the same.

COVID-19 · Mental Health · schools · trauma

The School District Hustle During COVID-19

Dare I say during this school year, school staff members were tested far more than the students were? 

I have the privilege of being in connection with so many teachers, administrators, school counselors, and SACs in a variety of ways. Aside from having teachers and administrators in my family, I also work with a few teachers in my private practice, and I am very well connected to the school districts through my job with the Gloucester Township Police Department. 

Throughout the pandemic, I have heard people make comments about how easy it must be for the school staff members to be able to work from home. People have made comments about how, because schools closed in March, this will be “the longest summer break for them”. And I just have to say,

I wholeheartedly disagree. This will not be the longest, easiest summer break for school staff, but it will surely be the most well-deserved break they have ever had.

Mid-March should be an exciting time throughout school districts – spring is in the air, school trips are being planned, graduations and proms are around the corner, award ceremonies are being anticipated, etc. This year, however, in the blink of an eye, COVID-19 forced schools to take their regular teaching curriculum and turn it into remote learning. Was this a seemingly impossible and daunting task? Absolutely! But the school staff rose to the occasion. I have spoken with teachers and school counselors who have worked tirelessly just to make sure that they could continue to educate kids whom they could no longer see in person. 

But it doesn’t end there! See, the really inspiring thing about teachers, SACs, school counselors/social workers, and administrators is that they never do just the bare minimum.

It is hard enough to meet the needs of every child in a school when they are sitting right in front of you, let alone trying to keep up with children, especially at-risk children, who are now forced into remote learning. It would be a million times easier to let these kids slip through the cracks and simply give them zeros or fail them for the year when they are not checking in with their teachers, not turning in their work, or have not responded to any of the school staff’s requests. What the school staff did instead, however, is work even harder to make sure that these children know they are not alone and ensure that they have the resources they need to continue with remote learning. 

School staff have worked double-time, triple-time, quadruple-time to make sure the students do not miss out on any of the fun activities that were planned for the end of the school year. I am honored to work with one school SAC in particular who even transformed the school’s annual senior scholarship competition so that it could be completed virtually and the students would still have a chance to compete. I have watched teachers make videos for their students, hold Zoom meetings so the class could be together, and schedule time individually with each child to talk about the end of the school year, especially the younger children, like 5thgraders, who will never get the opportunity to go back to their elementary school, as they will now be moving onto middle school. 

Teachers and counselors care so much more than we give them credit for. When the schools first closed, I remember sitting in my private practice with a patient who teaches elementary-aged children in an inner-city school district. In our previous sessions, we had many conversations about how much these children challenged her due their environments, histories of trauma, lack of support at home, etc. However, when she realized she was no longer going to be able to see her students at work every day, she was devastated. She grieved over not being able to interact with her kids. She worried because she knew that for so many of those children, school was their only safe space. She was frustrated with figuring out how she would continue to connect with her students when so many of them do not even have internet access in their homes. 

It has not been easy for members of school districts, regardless if they are teachers, counselors, SACs, or administrators. It has been exhausting, heartbreaking, worrisome, and stressful beyond belief. But in typical school staff fashion, they rose to the occasion. They have done socially-distanced visits with their students, checked in with many of them on a regular basis, surprised them at their homes with goodie bags to celebrate making it through the school year, and so much more. 

In this week’s blog post, I simply wanted to make space to honor the schools and recognize how hard these loving and dedicated individuals have worked on behalf of their students. They did not have an extended summer vacation. The truth is that they went to war against a pandemic that took away their ability to influence and educate our younger generations. 

To the teachers,

To the SACs,

To the school counselors and social workers,

To the administrators,

To every single person who works in or for the school districts:

This one is for you. THANK YOU.