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How Will Your Light Shine

The winter sun casts its long shadows. The darkness gathers quickly, and the cold wind blows. Yet, within each of us there kindles a small flame, a hopeful twinkle to answer the call of the long winter months ahead. How will your light shine in 2023? Where will you go and how will you measure success beyond your bank account or 401k statement?

Great things in life seldom happen without resolve and creative action. The fruits of your labor are the result of vision, meaning, hard work, and patience, and an understanding that you will likely not succeed before you accomplish something. But you will learn, and you will grow from both success and disappointment.

There’s some truth to what naysayers’ voice about resolutions, but the concept remains a good one. Used well, daily, and with meaningful intent, resolutions can provide a focal point needed to turn aspirations into that “new normal” we keep hearing about.

We all have answers to what we want out of life. The problem is we ask ourselves the wrong questions. Change “Why is this happening to me?” to “This is happening to me.” Lead with “How will I do this?” or “How will I make this helpful?” See the difference?  Now, say it out loud.  Most people who try something new are rarely successful on the first, second or even third try. Yet, they can persevere.

If a dream is worth dreaming, then it’s worth relentless passion and creative action to realize your true north. Perseverance and resolve are key. Little in life is accomplished without these. So rather than abandon your New Year’s resolutions, try adding this one: “I resolve to create a life worth living.” Ask yourself, “Where and what is my Polestar, my true north?”

Navigate those uncharted waters and stop being your own worst critic. Celebrate both your successes and failures. They make you who you are.

To be open to joy, acknowledge the suffering in you and others. Understand that commitment and kindness matter. Remind yourself frequently of what you hope to achieve and pursue it with an urgency that says my time here is short, with no guarantees. Life didn’t leave you behind. It’s starting now. These are more than just platitudes of encouragement; this is the reality of your existence. Show up, participate, feel sorrow, embrace joy, know disappointment, but above all else, embrace your Polestar.

May you head into 2023 believing you can make it a year filled with new goals, old dreams, and hope.

Peace and kindness,

Don

“You Will Be Visited by Three Spirits”

by Don Laird, NCC, LPC

Scrooge. It’s a name synonymous with a cold and heartless man concerned more with greed and gain than mercy; a cultural archetype who wants nothing further to do with humanity and has no use for words like compassion or care. Yet, on closer examination, Scrooge’s story reveals some remarkable insights into the malaise of our modern times. The narrative is universal and enduring, but Charles Dickens’ tale is more than a harsh commentary on the mores of his time.

On its surface, Dickens’ Victorian yarn can be overlooked as just another holiday story. The tradition of spinning stories of spectral visitors was quite common for the time. However, there is much more at stake now for our cultural and individual wellbeing in this seasonal tale. Therefore, I assert that Dickens’ seminal 1843 work A Christmas Carol remains one of the finest illustrations of existential psychotherapy ever written (albeit in fictional form).

The tale of Ebeneezer Scrooge opens a time and space for those who want to reflect on life in all its suffering and beauty. This is also a starting principle for good therapy. Reflecting on existence and the human condition is not about instant transformation for the client or utilizing a positive psychology to soothe the existential fears of both client and therapist. It is a crisis that is illuminated by one of the key tenets of psychotherapy – fear of death.

It is here that I want to briefly highlight the other side of Scrooge. No one arrives at a fixed point in their development without a back story, and Scrooge’s history is one filled with disappointment, suffering, and neglect. He is an ignored and isolated child, abandoned even at Christmas by his family and friends. Scrooge knows emotional pain all too well at an early age. The world around him and its inhabitants are not to be trusted. People, above all, should be shunned. They are to be feared for needing emotional attachment and engagement – qualities easily dismissed by a young man whose growing trust in currency will engulf his life for years to come.

Stave I of A Christmas Carol exemplifies one of the central canons of existential depression and anxiety, life has always been this way and it will always be this way. There is a critical loss of agency here, and caustic determinism quickly fills the void. When the third spirit beckons Scrooge to look down on his own tombstone, Scrooge, in a moment of sheer existential terror, experiences a cognitive opening and a spiritual awakening. His life can be written differently and what seems to be etched in marble and stone isn’t.

This cautionary lesson is compelling; an opportunity for Scrooge to experience what life might look like following his death. With his shroud-covered corpse left abandoned on a table, he watches in horror as
strangers and former servants quibble over his meager belongings and mock his demise with no regard or mercy. In death as it was in life, he is no longer an agent of change. He is a spectator of the cruel and vicious world he helped create.

However, all Three Spirits present Scrooge with a gift – he was and is an agent of change. It is this encounter with one’s mortality that can lead to a deeper and greater life. In short, to know death is to know life. Scrooge embraces the consequences of this adage so that he may live out his final months and years involved in the vibrancy of close relationships and mercy.

Death anxiety is real; despite those in psychology who often relegate it to the closet of “let’s not go there unless we have to” (even by those seasoned practitioners who should know better). Beware the therapist
who professes that the exploration of death anxiety is not particularly helpful. Yes, therapists can spend far too much time focusing on one area while neglecting another. It happens. Not every therapist is experienced enough to create a new therapy for each of their clients. However, that shouldn’t allow for a surging wave of positive psychology and cognitive therapy to sweep us away from Otto Rank’s maxim, “Some refuse the loan of life to avoid the debt of death.” This is especially relevant in a postpandemic world.

Exploration of death and dying serves as a profound catalyst toward some remarkable life changes. As Dickens illustrates, it is the confluence of both past, present, and future, an investigation of life by way of a spiritual awareness and cognitive acknowledgement of our finite time here on Earth. In this way, we are all a reflection of Dickens’ vision.

A Christmas Carol calls us to consider some definitive questions, “How would the world be different if I were to die today?” and “Do I ever have a true sense of how many lives I’ve touched?” Scrooge’s story may, in fact, provide the answers. Our relationships with others are so intrinsic that our absence creates an entirely different existence – a ghostly existential vacuum, if you will.

In the Victorian era, people saw ghosts and had premonitions. It was a system of supernatural beliefs that were not unusual for the era. Freud came along and said that this was the result of repressed memories. The dead were reduced to misleading or damaged recollections that resulted in certain beliefs and behaviors. Ghosts haunted the mind, not the house. Yet, there is something within Scrooge’s narrative that calls to us, pushes us beyond cause and effect, beyond determinism, and reminds us that we
can be responsible and compassionate with our life choices and that no person is indeed an island.

Life Lessons and the End of 2022

My daughter recently began violin lessons for the first time. We went to have her measured for the instrument, and I watched her as it was carefully packed up. She was so proud of it, sitting next to it in the car on the way home with an ever-protective hand hovering slightly over it in case of any unexpected bumps in the road.

When she began her first lesson, the instructor explained the different parts of the violin – the fingerboard, the neck, the shoulders, and only motioned toward its bow, still firmly nestled in its case.

“We won’t be using the bow for the first few weeks,” he explained, and then had my daughter hold the violin around its neck. “Now hold the violin up as high as you can,” he instructed, demonstrating for her, and she followed suit. “I call this the Statue of Liberty pose. Hold it there for a count of ten. Ten…nine…” when he counted down to one, he had her rest for a moment.

They went through a series of picking exercises, but I was most struck by the Statue of Liberty – the importance of strengthening the arm and hand muscles way before she’d get to playing any notes. It reminded me of working with my kids when they were in preschool with their scissor skills, reinforcing that connection between having the hand and finger strength to cut through construction paper and the later skills of handwriting.

Has 2022 felt like the Statue of Liberty pose to you? Was it uncomfortable? Just plain hard work? Maybe it was a disappointment because instead of getting to play with the bow and get fancy with your year right away, it instead ended up being a series of tough (but very important!) exercises. I think a lot of my year felt that way, too, but although it feels unglamorous and exhausting, there’s a lot of hope there. Where else can the tough times lead except resilience and strength over time? What can be gained from consistently holding up a weight except a stronger muscle, increased focus, and improved confidence?

As part of the violin practices my daughter was assigned throughout the week – moving the violin from rest position to playing position, playing a short, two-note song, etc. – time in the Statue of Liberty pose was also prescribed. I have a feeling that will continue long after she’s able to use the bow, maybe something she’ll have to do for years. And although I know it’s no fun, I’m glad for it, because it’s so much a microcosm of what our own lives are like: so many building-block moments that gradually build on themselves to become a larger picture.

It’s very rare that raw, natural talent delivers flawless performances right from the get-go. 99.999% of the time, we need discipline and practice and training to get where we want or need to go. My hope for you is that if 2022 was indeed a tough year for you, where you mostly just had to hold up your metaphorical arm for a very long time with very little rest, that 2023 and beyond will be filled with beautiful music you have made for yourself.

Until next time, be well!
Christy

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eTalkTherapy - talk with a counselor online

About the author: Christy Gualtieri is a freelance writer specializing in pop culture, religion, and motherhood. She lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and two children. Christy also blogs at asinglehour.wordpress.com and tweets @agapeflower117. You can  follow her here on eTalkTherapy for inspirational articles and different perspectives as they relate to good mental health.

Gathered Around the Table

Well, here we are: the first “back to normal” Thanksgiving holiday since 2019; and like many Thanksgivings before it, it’s a time that can be fraught with heated political discussions, arguments, opinions, and time with family and friends that can seem incredibly heavy.

Or, not. It can also be a time of great relief, celebration, joy, eating delicious food that will lead to a fantastic nap on the couch while the Lions/Bills game blares in the background, and not much else.

Chances are, it may be a little of both, the way life is a lot of both. That’s usually the way it goes, even if the lovelier parts can be difficult to see through the muck of the daily grind. I can recall a Thanksgiving where we announced to our families that we were expecting our first child, and vividly recall the loud shouts of joy and the cheers that followed. A year later we didn’t see our family for Thanksgiving because my mother was dying and we had spent so much time traveling to be with her that we needed to stay put for a while. Same holiday, yet a very different feel to each one.

So I can understand the trepidation someone may feel when a big holiday is around the corner that may potentially cause problems. But I’d like to take this opportunity to gently remind you that while yes, Thanksgiving can be a holiday that may have historically been troublesome for you, that you are not the same person you were a year ago. In what ways have you changed since last Thanksgiving?

I know you may be thinking of the ways in which you feel you’ve changed for the worse since last year (that was my first impulse too), but try and push past that initial wave. Take some time to really think about it. You may feel some memories of a bad situation that happened in the last year, a sorrow or a problem; but you do have some resiliency – you are here, after all. In what ways have you gotten stronger (physically, emotionally, or spiritually)? Have you improved a skill? Have you dedicated your time to something outside yourself that has benefitted you in some way?

In what ways can we say we are stronger this year? Are you able to stand up for yourself in a setting where you’re getting together with people for the holiday? And if you do or not, what are some ways you can take care of yourself after the holiday has ended?

When I had issues with food and eating some years ago, one phrase around the fraught time of Halloween through New Year’s (and particularly Thanksgiving, because so much of it is surrounded by food) that I found really helpful was “_____ is just one day.” Thanksgiving is just one day.

I hope it’s a day for you that is mostly filled with celebration and joy. But if it is not, I hope that one day can be easily moved past. That you can look in the mirror that day or the next and recognize that you are stronger than you were a year ago. That you are able to think for yourself where you might not have been able to a year ago. That you are able to find what you need to give yourself more easily, in order to help you grow closer to peace and joy this year.

Until next time, be well!
Christy

***

eTalkTherapy - talk with a counselor online

About the author: Christy Gualtieri is a freelance writer specializing in pop culture, religion, and motherhood. She lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and two children. Christy also blogs at asinglehour.wordpress.com and tweets @agapeflower117. You can  follow her here on eTalkTherapy for inspirational articles and different perspectives as they relate to good mental health.

A Beautiful Example of Love and Friendship

Lesson Learned At the Bowling Alley

This past summer, I took my kids bowling for the first time in what felt like a million years. The lanes weren’t crowded, and it was a great place to head to beat the summer heat. As we played our first round of games, three men walked over to the lane beside us to start their games. One was a man with profound special needs, another seemed to be his caretaker, and another seemed to be his brother or a close friend.

The man with special needs was the only one bowling: they put up the bumpers so he wouldn’t get gutterballs, and he was having a great time sending the balls soaring down the heavily polished lane. He was excited when he knocked pins down and was frustrated when only one or two would go down, but over time, I realized I wasn’t watching him much at all: it was his brother (or the man who I assumed was his close friend) who caught my attention most.

He didn’t bowl, but he boisterously encouraged his friend through every try. “You got it!” he’d say by way of encouragement before the ball went down the lane. “That was a great shot.” When the pins would be knocked down, he’d say admiringly, “No one can bowl like you, that was amazing.” If not all the pins went down, he’d say, “Don’t worry, you’ll get them next time!”

Just simple encouragement, the entire time in a voice that was not condescending, or apologetic but 100% genuine. He was proud, and it was indeed no big deal that this man who was his friend was bowling just like everyone else.

The thing that struck me most about the exchange that I saw was that it cost this man literally nothing to be so encouraging. He didn’t have to, after all; he could have taken his friend bowling and nodded or given a few claps here or there. But he didn’t – he made the choice to be completely in the moment and a beautiful example of love and friendship.

I think often now about those moments that I am afraid to encourage people in my life. Why am I afraid to do that more often? Is it because of how I think I will look to others? Is it because I will make others suspicious? Is it because I’m afraid of getting ridiculed too? I don’t know. It gave me food for thought, though, and maybe this story will give you some, as well.

Who can you encourage in your life today? Who can we reach out to, as genuinely as possible, to lift up? Is there anyone in your own life you seek encouragement from when you’re down? We all have the ability to lift others up when we come across them, and it doesn’t cost us anything to put a smile on someone’s face. Give it a try today!

Until next time, be well!
Christy

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eTalkTherapy - talk with a counselor online

About the author: Christy Gualtieri is a freelance writer specializing in pop culture, religion, and motherhood. She lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and two children. Christy also blogs at asinglehour.wordpress.com and tweets @agapeflower117. You can  follow her here on eTalkTherapy for inspirational articles and different perspectives as they relate to good mental health.

Back to Reality OR How to Love Someone With Anxiety

I don’t know about your household, but ours gets reallll grumpy the first two weeks or so of the school year. My son and I take a little more time to adjust to the new routine, so we’re cranky about that. Our crankiness (like, I suspect is the case for most people’s) has the tendency to spread to the other members of our family, who do not appreciate it; and their crankiness passes back and forth until we all need to take a nap, or until enough time has passed until our routines are once again established and all is well.

If this scenario rings true for you (or ones you love), it may very well be the case that someone in your family suffers from anxiety. Both myself and my son do, but my husband and daughter don’t –  and it can be hard for them to see things from our point of view, which can lead to a lot of frustration all around.

So if you yourself do not suffer from chronic anxiety, here are some tips for understanding (at least in part) those you love who do, and what you can do to help in this busy time of year (or, at the very least, steer clear from for a while, if needed)! *Small disclaimer: I am only writing from my own experience and your mileage may vary.*

People With Anxiety like routine. If we generally know what to expect, we can prepare for it, and that leaves less room for the unknown. It’s hard to prepare for something if you don’t know what is happening, and that feeling can generate a large amount of fear in a small amount of time. It takes a lot for an anxious person to be flexible. Sometimes, what seems small to us (a traffic incident that requires a detour, for example) can set off a chain reaction of fear and upset that looks completely out of proportion – but for us, it’s a lot to take in!

It may take time for us to calibrate. Even if the new event is something familiar to us, like going to school, there are new teachers to adjust to, new homework routines to get used to, and a lot of newness in general. Please be patient with us as we get used to how things are now!

Anxiety around school or new routines may look like this (although again, your experience may vary): stomachaches, headaches, lack of appetite (or eating more than normal), or pacing. Your loved one may keep bringing their worries to you in conversation, even if you’ve already talked about it many times. Just keep reminding us that we’ve talked it out, and that you’ll always be there to listen, even if it seems like we’re not getting it the first time.

We may need space, or we may be clingier than usual…which leads me to the last point:

We are not doing this on purpose to bother you. People who struggle with anxiety are not exhibiting behaviors that may be irritating or annoying just to mess with you or to give you a terrible day. It is just us processing and getting used to the world as it is right now.

What can you do to help? Gently reminding us of things that have worked in the past: exercise, drinking more water, or offering us things we love to distract us work well. Helping us remember that we are capable of handling new things, even when they’re uncomfortable or even painful, can also be a big help. Just being there for us in general is really key!

If you’re currently in this situation, I hope everyone adjusts soon. If you feel like it’s getting very unmanageable, or if you need outside support, please don’t hesitate to reach out to a licensed therapist who is able to give you the expert help you need.

Until next time, be well!
Christy

***

eTalkTherapy - talk with a counselor online

About the author: Christy Gualtieri is a freelance writer specializing in pop culture, religion, and motherhood. She lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and two children. Christy also blogs at asinglehour.wordpress.com and tweets @agapeflower117. You can  follow her here on eTalkTherapy for inspirational articles and different perspectives as they relate to good mental health.

How to Handle Anxiety and Stress with My Kids

To say that the past few years have been a collective strain on most of us is an understatement. Wedged somewhere between a global pandemic, political and economic chaos, polarization in our homes and institutions, mass shootings, and an emergent war in Ukraine, we find ourselves struggling to get by from day to day. Recently, descriptors like numb, stuck, frustrated, exhausted and hopeless are common with most everyone I meet as a therapist.

One group that has been particularly vulnerable and affected by these events are parents. Providing safety, shelter, food, and other necessities has always been a benchmark of parenting. However, the yardstick by which the basics are measured now feels threatened, fueled by fear and misinformation. How can we help ourselves while not producing more anxiety in our kids? Here are some tips that might be helpful for parents to navigate the growing level of intense anxiety their kids are experiencing.

1. Turn down the volume. Try to help a child navigate and manage their anxiety. Anxiety is something live with, not avoid or turn off. The better way to help children overcome anxiety is to help them learn to live with it. Over time the volume will lower itself.

2. Understand balance. Don’t avoid things just because they make a child anxious. Avoiding things that we are afraid of will make us feel better presently, but it reinforces and increases the anxiety over the long run.

3. Express positive and realistic expectations. Don’t set yourself or your child up for failure. Create realistic expectations for scheduling and self-care.

4. Support, don’t service. Respect feelings, but don’t empower them. Validating feelings doesn’t mean you have to agree with them. Explore feelings and listen without judgment.

5. Be encouraging. Let your child know that you appreciate how hard they’re working and remind them that the more we accept and manage anxiety, the more it will diminish.

6. Practice anticipatory care for yourself, too. Don’t over discuss or over talk an issue, event, or problem. Talking your fears out loud can be helpful, but there is also a limit. Like everything else try to strike a balance.

7. Think things through with your child. Sometimes it helps to talk through what would happen if a fear came true—how would they handle it? For some children, having a plan can reduce uncertainty in a healthy way.

Finally, try to model healthy ways of handling anxiety. Take time for yourself. Don’t relegate your own mental health to “someday” or “when there’s more time.” Don’t pretend that anxiety, stress, worry, and fear are foreign concepts to you. Let kids hear or see you managing it calmly, accepting it and getting through it in a balanced way.

Talking with one of eTalkTherapy’s caring and experienced professionals can help you learn how to cope with your fears and anxieties about the future. We offer private and affordable therapy sessions via video or phone in the comfort of your home. Contact us today for details.

Moving Forward and Managing Our Fears

Tell Me More Podcast: Episode 6


(Music fades in) We thought we had seen (and somehow lived) through it all. A seemingly endless global pandemic, political unrest at home, supply chain shortages and inflation. But just as the transmission rates of the latest Covid 19 variant surge declined, global tensions rose as Russia invaded Ukraine, igniting fears of a growing international conflict.

What next? What else? And what can we do to move forward and manage our fears in these uncertain times?

I’m Susan Brozek Scott and in this episode of Tell Me More, we’re talking with Don Laird, licensed psychotherapist and founder of eTalkTherapy.com, who can help us unpack layers of emotions that have been building up over the past few years. Don, good to be with you. (Music fades out)

DON: It’s great to be with you again Susan.

SUSAN: Don, beyond people’s personal stories, struggles and losses these past years, technology enables us to see in real time a lot of images of human suffering that have put people on edge, especially if they feel powerless to change anything. How are people coping? What are you seeing and hearing?

DON: That’s a great question Susan. Before I answer it though I do want to say some of the things we’ll be talking about today are going to feel a bit heavy and a bit doom-and-gloom. It’s not like that we have hope on the horizon and we will touch on that a little later in the segment. But to give you a response to that question – the answer right now is a mixed bag, overall, we are not doing well. I’m seeing a lot of anger and continued polarization around most of these issues that have been plaquing us for the past two years. In all my years of practice, I’ve never experienced so much anger, anxiety, and fear. A bit of the challenge to the fields of psychiatry and psychology, is that not unlike the medical community, were ill equipped for the pandemic and it’s beginning to show. People feel as though something bad is about to happen, they can’t tell you how or when, but it’s right around that next corner. And with what’s happening when we turn on out TVs or look at social media or the news on our phones it’s clear that a lot is happening in our world that has us feeling as if we’re in an existential crisis because we are. We’re experiencing unprecedented levels of anxiety, fear, and existential loneliness.

SUSAN: Where do we start? How do we start to unpack all of the trauma and all of the anxiety and the really the fear that has been building up these past few years?

DON:  Take action. Seek help. Talk about it. Life is always new. It’s always changing if we recognize it as such. We’re not putting on rose colored glasses here, but by acknowledging the suffering and seeing that life and real hope begins on the other side of suffering – right. We have this idea that well we don’t talk about suffering, we talk about death. If it doesn’t itch, don’t scratch it kind of attitude. But here’s the thing, we’re in this position because we haven’t talked about it and we haven’t moved on it and taken action. So talking about our fears, exploring, and embracing them in a meaningful way can produce some life-long changes.

Look Susan, I could sit here and list off the latest study or ongoing research into this or that, but is that truly helpful? Is that truly helpful for the people listening today?

As therapists and help givers, let’s give help seekers – people out there trying to make real changes in their life – let’s give them a real chance to overcome their fears of therapy by understanding that it is not all back on them. It’s not all them to be alone with their feelings and emotions. Of course, it’s how they actualize those feelings into action and that where that real and creative therapy can help with. Let’s start there.

I think you had mentioned a word “unpack” Susan. And unpack is a great word. How does anyone unpack? If you’re like me you dump the bag all over the bed, and maybe you get to it that night but most likely sometime that week of putting things away. Some people do that they dump everything onto the bed, or others methodically removing one item at a time and analyze it before putting it away, or some leave the bag in the corner until they can get to it? Is there a right way to unpack? And the answer is no. Every person is different. Every help seeker needs their own therapy, not one prescribed to them by some one size fits all approach.

SUSAN: Well given where we are now, as we’re trying to unpack and everyone is using a different formula what do you see as some of the biggest mental health challenges that are still ahead in the next few months and years?

You know I’m personally seeing people acting out in unusual ways – just even driving down the highway – it seems that people have forgotten how to drive, does that make any sense?

DON: It is and you make a great point Susan. I think these things are acting out right – in ways – we’re seeing rage and anger at an all time high and it’s not about the person cutting me off in traffic – it’s about all the pent of frustration, and hurt and rage that I’ve experienced over the past few years. Maybe my entire life and it has to come out somehow. So pragmatically and logistically speaking, how do we address this? Getting mental health resources available for everyone. Taking the stigma away. Let’s start there. When in doubt we should be going the human route. That’s a favorite saying of mine, Susan. When in doubt go with the human route. Let’s promote flourishing, I’ve mentioned this earlier in the segment, let’s promote flourishing and not focus exclusively on pathology and diagnosis. Understanding how we are all counted helps us remove the illusion or idea of loneliness, and anger and helps transform that anger and fear that comes from feeling separated into something creative and life changing. I can’t stress that enough. That’s really how good therapy works. It helps transform feelings of anger and fear and anxiety and loneliness into something creative and life changing.

SUAN: Do you think it’s helping to reduce the stigma by athletes, by celebrities , even political leaders when they come forward and say yes, I’ve been dealing with a mental health challenge and here’s how I’m going to prioritize my health over a competition or a duty that I have to perform. Do you think that’s helpful when we see because we’re surrounded by social media so many people coming forward and beginning to acknowledge that rather than try to hide it?

DON: Absolutely! Absolutely, Susan. We wouldn’t be having this conversation if a sports figure or celebrity came forward and said I have cancer or I have been diagnosed with diabetes or I’ve been struggling with heart disease. This is part o the dialog we should be having and when people do come forward that is such a great help. Right, when people come forward and they say I struggle with this, I have issues with that – it helps normalize it in a way that the stigma, a lot of the air gets taken out of it. (SUSAN: A lot of the courage. ) Absolutely and we have a long way to go. Calling a therapist, contacting a therapist, setting up that first appointment, it’s an act of courage. I can’t emphasize that enough.

SUSAN: So if you’re a family member and you have a friend or someone that you care about and you sense something is a little different with them how do you step in or what can you do to help them? Is it taking an action with them or talking to them or listening. How can you help because I’ve really talked to a lot of people that have reached out and tried to help but they are sure exactly what to do.

DON: Yes, this is important. All the above. Ok a little bit of all the above is the answer. But encourage them to seek help from a professional therapist. Look Susan Let’s be a friend, a spouse, a sibling, and a parent first. Don’t try to take on the role of counselor any more than you would try to take on a specialized role of being a lawyer or cardiologist or a dentist. We wouldn’t do that so most of the time what we end up doing to is we end up giving advice, something the person has already thought about. So in the mean time just sit and listen, hear what is being said, listen deeply without offering that advice or some platitudes – advice on what you would do in that situation – and always bring your best self to the conversation. (Susan: Be present.) Be present, absolutely.

SUSAN: Don Laird, licensed Psychotherapist and founder of eTalkTherapy.com, thanks for helping guide us through these really challenging times.

DON: As always, Susan, thank you so much for having me and thank you for everybody listening out there.

(Music fades in)

Susan: This podcast does NOT provide medical advice. The content is for informational purposes only. Consult with your doctor on all medical issues regarding your condition and treatments. The Content is NOT intended to be a substitute for professional, psychiatric or medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment, nor does it replace the need for services provided by a medical or psychiatric professional. Always seek the advice of a medical professional, psychiatrist or therapist before making any changes to your treatment.

(Music fades out).

Finding Normal Part II

Life on the Other Side of Suffering

The military has a slang phrase that I’ve always liked: “Embrace the suck.” Embrace that which is terrible – accept it, get through it, and become changed by it (hopefully for the better). 

And there is so much to embrace! I mentioned last time the tremendous amount of collective sucking there has been over the last few years, which has run from the extremes of contagious (and fatal) disease to the terribly deep distrust that many people have about the truth and where it comes from, to the degeneration of relationships and the literal fear of other people and suspicion of their activities. And also, war! So yes, much sucking. And yes, much opportunity for embracing.

Why embrace suffering? In my last blog post I wrote that suffering must not be the entirety of your life. Why not? A couple of reasons: one, because if it is, your life will feel as though it amounts to nothing, which feels terrible (and will continue to feel terrible if it is not addressed). If your life feels terrible, you will forget that you are a very important and needed part of the world, and so the world will be terribly shortchanged by your withdrawal from it. And two, because life was never meant to be all suffering. There is a lot of beauty and a lot of good in the world, and just as people have suffered since the beginning of time, so have they also enjoyed goodness. Your life does not need to be only suffering; and if it feels as though it’s all that is, please, please reach out to a professional who can help you work through those feelings. Life is not meant to be all pain; help is available to you. 

But if no one can escape suffering, what does the embracing of it look like? I think acceptance has a lot to do with it – looking it straight in the face and recognizing it for what it is. Accepting that things (like illnesses, like war) are realities, and we exist in that reality. Once we accept something, things get easier because we’re not mentally tired from the effort of running away from it. And there is a difference, I think, between acknowledging something and accepting it. “I totally acknowledge that there is a pandemic today,” I may say as I eat an entire pint of ice cream straight from the carton in a very panicky way, wishing I had a time machine in which to jump straight back to 2019; but without the acceptance of it, it just becomes a Very Scary Thing To Think About and doesn’t move on from there. (I also get Brain Freeze and sick of ice cream.) 

Acceptance of something that scares you doesn’t need to take the fear of it away, but it does allow us some greater sense of control over ourselves and our actions. “I accept that there is a pandemic that TOTALLY SUCKS and is stripping me of my basic desires to go outdoors and interact with other people and I am very angry and scared about it,” I may say. And then I can have one spoonful of the ice cream and get on with the day because I have vocalized my feelings and thus have taken ownership and responsibility for them. I have embraced that suck.

Embracing it also means understanding that things aren’t perfect. Viruses exist (in part) because we live in an imperfect world. War exists (in part) because leaders are flawed people. We suffer in our lives because sometimes the choices we make aren’t great. But embracing our humanity – our flaws – helps us to be empathetic to others and to develop an understanding outside of ourselves, which is always a good thing. If I am not perfect (and I assure you that I am not), and you are not perfect, there is a common ground that we both stand on together. Reconciliation happens out of that knowledge. Acceptance happens out of that knowledge – and the fruit of those things are life – changing for the better.

Embracing the suck, to me, means realizing that yes, terrible things happen. Traumatic, painful, unspeakable things happen that we need to heal from. But we can’t heal from them if we don’t face them, don’t see them for what they are, don’t do what we can to fix them. And we can’t do that if we’re hiding. 

I know that it’s really, really really hard to do, but we also don’t need to embrace suffering alone. It is good for us to be in a community, in a society. Talk it out. Find people who will listen to you, that will help you wrap your arms around it all and will give you the strength to do so. If we all do this together, we can collectively make such a tremendous difference, a positive one, in the world.

Until next time, be well!
Christy

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About the author: Christy Gualtieri is a freelance writer specializing in pop culture, religion, and motherhood. She lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and two children. Christy also blogs at asinglehour.wordpress.com and tweets @agapeflower117. You can  follow her here on eTalkTherapy for inspirational articles and different perspectives as they relate to good mental health.

Finding Normal Part I

Pandemics, Wars, and Giant Spiders

“Would you mind telling me whose brain I did put in?”
“…And you won’t be angry?”
“I will NOT be angry.”
“Abby…someone.”
“Abby someone? Abby who?”
“Abby normal.”
-Young Frankenstein, 1974

Ah, normality. Remember that? Late February, early March 2020, before all of the lockdowns and the fear and the toilet paper that was impossible to get? What did it look like for you? For me, it was pretty simple: a husband, two kids, homework and preschool and dinner on the table. Weekend trips to see family in different states every now and then, day trips into the city to catch a ball game or to visit the museum. Going to the library, for crying out loud. And then, suddenly, in a large sweeping motion, it was gone. 

I won’t go into it. You lived it, too. But what was meant to be a return to normalcy this summer has sort of warped into this abnormal space that has the taste of what things used to be like, because we have all passed through this shadow that has changed us somehow, regardless of whether or not we actually contracted the virus. It seems we can have barbecues again, for example- but will they be attended by the same people that used to come to them, or have we stopped talking to them because they didn’t get a vaccine? No need for masks these days, but can we look at our neighbor the way we used to – with love, or affection, or affability – even though they still wear one? 

That’s just the coronavirus. Vacations can return now with less fear of catching Covid-19, but with the price of gas rising to unprecedented levels, is it practical? Gas is a concern for some; but what of the heavy psychic weight of possible nuclear war? And have you heard about those giant Joro spiders that are as big as a human palm?* 

But I’ve been thinking about this recently, about all of the suffering that has consumed our every point of media – both in the last couple of years with coronavirus and in the most of weeks with the war in Ukraine – and I’ve come to the realization that when it comes to suffering, it really doesn’t matter. Not in a nihilistic way, where everything is suffering and everything is meaningless, but in a way that suggests that there has never been a long time in our lives that was without suffering. 

We have all suffered together because of the global impact of coronavirus, the way we are all suffering together in one form or another (whether it be personally or emotionally or economically) because of the war in Ukraine, and so we have become used to suffering in the collective. But there have been sufferings in your life that were clearly demarcated by a Before and an After that haven’t been collectively shared. For my friend and neighbor, for example, it was before and after her breast cancer diagnosis; for me it was before and after my mother died. For you it has been something else entirely. And it will continue to be.

All of this is to say that life – any life, and most lives – contain a certain amount of suffering. Some suffering (I think, although people have disagreed with me on this) is objectively more tragic than others – I personally don’t believe all suffering is equal – but there is no such thing as a suffering-free life. It just doesn’t exist. That was always the case, stretching back across the millennia. So no, it’s not looking like this summer will be as it was before the Covid-19 pandemic, for a multitude of reasons. 

But – and this is a very big but – although suffering is a part of everyone’s life, neither does it have to be the entirety of it. In fact, it must not be the entirety of it, or it will be what destroys everything. 

This has been an especially difficult couple of years, and it’s not looking so great in a lot of ways moving forward. But just as we all suffered as a group, maybe in the coming days and weeks we can find ways to relieve it as a group. More on that next time!

Until next time, be well!
Christy

*I know those ridiculous spiders are harmless because their bite doesn’t break human skin, but come on.

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About the author: Christy Gualtieri is a freelance writer specializing in pop culture, religion, and motherhood. She lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and two children. Christy also blogs at asinglehour.wordpress.com and tweets @agapeflower117. You can  follow her here on eTalkTherapy for inspirational articles and different perspectives as they relate to good mental health.