Don Laird

You Will Be Visited By Three Spirits

An Existential Yuletide Greeting
by Don Laird, NCC, LPC, DCC

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Illustration by Harry Furniss

“Before I draw nearer to that stone to which you point,” said Scrooge, “answer me one question. Are these the shadows of the things that Will be, or are they the shadows of things that May be, only?”

Scrooge. A word that can immediately conjure images of a bitter and heartless man concerned more with greed than humanity; a cultural archetype of someone wanting nothing further to do with his species and one who has no use for words like “compassion” or “care.” Yet, on closer examination, Scrooge’s story reveals some remarkable insights for our modern times. There are facets to his narrative that are ostensibly universal. Yes, a harsh commentary on the mores of his time, but Scrooge is more relevant today than ever.

On its surface, Dickens’ Victorian yarn can be simply read as “Being a Ghost Story of Christmas.” However, there is much at stake for our cultural and individual well being in this seasonal tale. In fact, I assert to you that Charles Dickens’ seminal 1843 work A Christmas Carol remains one of the finest examples of existential psychotherapy ever written (albeit in fictional form). The tale of Ebeneezer Scrooge opens a time and space for self-reflection for those who want to examine life in a meaningful and in-depth fashion. This is not about instant transformation for the client, positive psychology to sooth the therapist’s fears, or worse, wishful thinking from both parties. It is an existential crisis that is illuminated by one of the key tenets of psychotherapy – fear of death.

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Illustration by Harry Furniss

We all know the story, so it is here that I wish to briefly highlight the other side of Scrooge. No one arrives at a certain point in their development without a back story, and Scrooge’s history is one filled with disappointment and neglect. He is an ignored and isolated child, abandoned even at Christmas by his family and friends. Scrooge knows 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 as they need and require emotional attachment and engagement. These qualities are easily dismissed by a young man whose growing trust in currency and greed will engulf his life for years.

In the beginning of A Christmas Carol, Scrooge exemplifies one of the central canons of existential depression and anxiety, that one has always been this way, and one always will be. There is a loss of agency and caustic determinism quickly fills in this void. When the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come points at the tombstone, Scrooge understands for the first time that life can be written differently: what seems to be etched in stone isn’t. The specter’s message is powerful; an opportunity for Scrooge to see what life on earth would be like after his death. Scrooge observes his own forgotten corpse as his peers minimize his demise. He watches in horror as strangers quickly sell his belongings, while mocking his death with no regard or mercy. In death, he can no longer be an agent of change. He is a spectator to a cruel and vicious world he created.  Yet all Three Spirits show him that he was and is agent of change as long as he is alive. It is through an encounter with one’s mortality that a fuller life may occur – to know death is to know life. Scrooge accepts the significance of death, so that he may live his final months and years embraced in the richness of his relationships with others.

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Illustration by Harry Furniss

Death anxiety is real; despite those in modern psychology who often relegate the subject of death to the closet of “let’s not go there unless we have to” (even by some seasoned practitioners who should know better). In short, beware the therapist who professes that the exploration of death anxiety is not particularly helpful in therapy. Yes, therapists can spend far too much time focusing on one area while neglecting another. It happens. Not every therapist is well-rounded enough to create a new therapy for each of her or his clients. However, that shouldn’t allow for a wave of “positivity” to sweep us away from Otto Rank’s maxim, “Some refuse the loan of life to avoid the debt of death.” Exploration of death and dying serves as a profound catalyst toward some remarkable life changes. It is the confluence of both past, present and future; an investigation of life by way of an awareness and acknowledgement of our finite time here on Earth. In this way, we are all a reflection of Dicken’s vision.

Thus, A Christmas Carol calls us to embrace 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 was not uncommon. 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.

Be well, and remember to keep the spirit of this season in your heart today and throughout the year.

In good health,
Don

Photos courtesy http://www.victorianweb.org/art/illustration/furniss/xmas.html#cc

Wooden welcome sign
eTalkTherapy

Welcome Therapist Kema Mesko

Therapist Kema MeskoJoin us in welcoming the newest member of our eTalkTherapy family Kema Mesko, who brings with her a wealth of clinical experience and a refreshing take on the importance of meaning and mindfulness in the therapeutic relationship. Kema’s areas of focus include postpartum depression, infertility issues, relationship discord and other women’s issues. Get to know more about Kema in this Q&A: 

  1. What does therapy mean to you?

Therapy means a safe space to speak about whatever you want to talk about. No judgement, No “I told you so”, No agenda. Therapy is a working relationship between you and your therapist to help you through this complex thing called life. Sometimes it takes the perspective of someone that does not know you in your day to day life to broaden your perspective to a much greater worldview. Therapy helped to enhance my life for the better, and if I can help even one person do the same my job is worth it.  

  1. What makes therapy successful?

Therapy is successful when the therapist and the client are both invested in the work. One can not want progress more than the other. And when forward progress is not being made, an open and honest conversation must be able to take place as to what could be the reason that is. Unconditional positive regard and empathy on the part of the therapist, as well as a client that truly NOT only wants help but is ready to do the work.

  1. How has nursing help shape your role as a therapist?

While working as a nurse, I noticed we would do a fantastic job of taking care of our patient’s physical ailments but not so much their mental health concerns. It was very easy for me to see how interconnected the mental and physical health were connected, but in my role as a nurse I wasn’t trained to address the mental health side of things.

Now as a therapist I’m able to assist my clients with different tools but in the same manner I would as a nurse with years of experience working with patients. Nursing has helped me to understand that sometimes less explanation at a time is better. And demonstration of techniques such as deep breathing instead of just handing you a paper is much more effective. And having the background medical knowledge helps a lot to understand a lot of what the clients are going through without them having to spend time explaining it to me causing them more frustration. Nursing helped me to more aware of how I could be most useful to my clients, more than any textbook could’ve taught me.

  1. What is your life philosophy?

My life philosophy is very simple: 2 things, Progress not Perfection… and Perfectly Imperfectly

Nobody is perfect nor should we ever place the expectation on ourselves or anyone to be. We are all flawed. But we can ALWAYS but in the work to be better tomorrow than we are today and that’s all we can do.

  1. Describe yourself in three words?

Caring, Authentic, Calm

  1. If you could meet someone living or dead, who would it be AND why?

Serena Williams, because I admire strong powerful woman that are the best at their craft.  She is an example of a woman that has dominated her field and is not afraid to also show her feminine side. Life is about balance. And I strive to be an example of a strong, powerful woman that is a role model to my daughter to be the best at whatever she chooses.  

  1. What was the funniest thing you have ever experienced? Or Share something about yourself that others would be surprised to learn?

Ahhh 😊 so something that people are usually surprised to learn is that I teach a mixed martial arts cardio kickboxing class called BodyCombat! I’ve been teaching it for over 10 years!! It’s my total alter ego personality when the music starts, and I put the microphone on. But it’s my best form of self-care and stress relief!!

  1. Complete this sentence “The quality I most value in a friend”

Loyalty.

  1. Complete this sentence “The quality I most value in myself”

Honesty.

If you are looking to make positive changes in your life, we can help! Please contact us today about how to register and schedule your live video-chat counseling session with Kema.

Follow eTalkTherapy on Facebook and Twitter for updates and articles related to good mental health!

woman walking on a back road
Don Laird

This is where I draw the line

Someone asked me recently for a short list of things that would be helpful in leading a happier life. I explained that happiness, like all emotions, is fleeting. Yet, I started thinking more about her inquiry. It’s not the first time I’ve been asked for such advice.  As therapists, we are trained ad nauseam that giving direct guidance of any kind is frowned upon and unwise.  However, there is a time and a place for directive counsel and the positive effects it can have for a person who just wants her mind to be quiet for a bit.  Often, people are so busy trying to change others around them that they forget that a firm set of boundaries will help settle even the most tempest mind.

So here listed are ten boundaries, not in any particular order, that can act as reminders. Think of them this way; if happiness is indeed fleeting and not a fixed destination then how I am opening myself up to the possibility of happiness, satisfaction and a quieter mind? These are not intended to be a road map, but rather some markers along your path that may be useful.

  1. It is not my job to fix others.
  2. It is okay to say “no.”
  3. I am responsible for supporting others, not servicing.
  4. I can only make myself happy.
  5. I am not responsible for the happiness of others.
  6. Not everyone has to agree with or like me.
  7. I have a right to my own feelings, including anger. It’s how I express those feelings that counts.
  8. I can search for my meaning and purpose without permission from another.
  9. I do not have to put the emotional needs of others ahead of mine.
  10. I am responsible for my feelings and actions.

Living a life worth living shouldn’t include sacrificing your happiness for others. Learning to value and be responsible for yourself and your feelings is not selfishness, it is an act of selflessness that is affirming and empowering. The worth of your day should not be contingent on whether those around you are “happy.” Yes, we do influence others just as they influence us, but their feelings are their feelings, nothing more you can do here. Being supportive and caring is not the same as being in service to another.

We often cling to unhappy lives because change is too frightening, but setting boundaries isn’t as scary or as complicated as it may sound. In short, real change only occurs when you attempt something different. Practicing the above list is by no means a sure bet toward a healthier or happier life, but it is a step in that direction.

If you’d like to discuss boundaries and relationships further or any other mental health concerns, please feel free to contact me or you can schedule an appointment with me.

In good health,
Don

Teacher and pupils
Don Laird

Back to School: A Mental-Health Check List

It’s that time of the year again. When a simple three-word phrase evokes dread for most school-age kids and relief for most parents: “Back to School.” Yet, ask any parent, child or teacher, heading back to the classroom is not without its challenges. It can be an exceptionally difficult time of transition for children who suffer from a mental health or learning issue.

Anxietyespecially unrealistic self-expectations and generalized fear of the world at largeis growing among school-aged children and adolescents these days. Potential root causes for this are both broad and complex, and worthy of a separate, stand-alone article. So returning to school can be an enormously challenging task for any child. Let alone one who struggles with anxiety.

Let’s look at it through a practical lens. Children are away from home and routine, and the rules have changed. The school environment requires certain demands that a typical summer setting does not. Summer rarely needs a child to sit still, stay organized, remain focused and on task and adapt to an extremely structured schedule.

Here are five things you should keep in mind before the first homeroom bell rings:

  1. Anxious Parents, Anxious Kids.

Modeling confidence and calm behaviors are central to most parenting situations, particularly when preparing a child ready for school. By fostering structure and daily routine in family life (bedtime, homework, etc), parents will find this transition period to be much smoother. Giving your kids too many choices about routine can backfire and ultimately put them in the seat of control. Remember, you are the parent.

Anxiety issues and traits can run in families. Children with anxious parents run a greater risk of experiencing anxiety themselves. It is still debatable (just read all the conflicting studies when you are having trouble sleeping) as to whether it is genetics, environment, both or something else, but there is no smoking gun when it comes to the root sources for anxiety.  Yet, it is quite observable that children – and most adults – can be like energy sponges, absorbing energy and assimilating behaviors. Remember, a child is usually no calmer than his or her least-relaxed parent. Anxiety can impact someone’s ability to focus, stay on task and is generally categorized by a state of unrealistic and persistent worry.

Sometimes it can be difficult to vet between what is age-appropriate behaviors and anxiety, but if you have concerns you should first discuss these with your child’s teacher and then a mental health professional should the behaviors continue to escalate.

  1. Teachers Can Be Your Best Ally.

Teachers get to know how a child behaves without family being present. Thus, parents can gain information about learning difficulties and peer problems and friendships. Teachers are your closest allies when it comes to your child’s success in school, and you should talk to them regularly. You will learn more about how your child is navigating his or her world, both academically and socially, by talking with the teacher.

  1. Routines Are Crucial.

Above all, be positive and encouraging. Examples of some good routines might include creating an uncluttered work space in the home; organizing a backpack, reviewing assignments; and discussing homework. You can observe your child’s strengths and weaknesses this way while also establishing and fostering good study habits. Also, be sure that your child is staying hydrated with lots of water and has the recommended amount of sleep for his or her age group.

  1. Don’t Worry.

Kids grow, learn and develop at different rates. A delay in one area of development doesn’t necessarily mean your child has a disorder. There needs to be significant evidence and some testing to reach any firm conclusion. However, if you suspect there might be a problem with your child’s development, talk to her teacher and consult with a mental health professional.

  1. Leave Them Alone.

This may sound counterproductive or even counter intuitive, but a child needs downtime. A schedule that is bursting at the seams, with little or no room for relaxation is also ripe for an anxious or depressed child. Give them time. Life is short, sometimes hard. Don’t unpack your stuff on that person who happens to be your child. Give them breathing room, and let them find out that the world can be a secure and inviting place without regimented schedules.

If you would like to continue the conversation or discuss more techniques to overcoming anxiety, contact me to schedule an appointment or free phone consultation today.

In Good Health,
Don

Single woman sitting at a cafe table holding a mug
eTalkTherapy

Table for one, the single girl strikes back!

Recently, during a not-short-enough visit with relatives back in the mid-west, I was reminded again (both subtly and palpably) that being single in your thirties is nothing short of scandalous. Yes, in 2019 an unmarried, happy, single gal in her thirties is still target practice for the misery, conjecture and theories of others. Yet, here’s the thing, I am single by choice. You know what else? I like my life.

Many complain about being single, obsessing over how much they dislike going through life alone. They grumble about how much it sucks to be by yourself and to not have a life to share. You know what really sucks? Having to hear about how much better your life would be if you just met the right person or having to listen to someone drone on about “soul mates” is sad at best and kind of creepy overall. Did I mention it’s 2019? This is still a thing?

Regarding this tired subject, I’ve been called uptight, snarky, unlovable, a bitch, and my personal favorite, a FemiNazi. Do better, people. Me? I’m doing fine. I have friends. I still date regularly – with occasional great sex. I work and belong to a local social-justice organization. My happiness tank is filled, and I’m surely not worried about <Gasp!> spinsterhood and neither should you.

If you are single, stop worrying about why you’re single. Sit back and enjoy the ride on your terms. You’re going to be just fine.  Here are some reasons (not in any particular order) why I remain sans partner, some satirical but all based on personal choice.

  1. I can’t even commit to the question, “What’s for lunch?”

I don’t know if the salad bar or a Flintstones-sized slab of ribs is in my immediate future. How am I supposed to commit to a living, breathing person? How, I ask, how?

  1. I would rather stay home than go out.

Hang out at the bar or be tucked warmly in my bed? Hmm…Currently, my nights are well spent with Sabrina, Moira Rose and Jon Snow. I gather with them at the Church of Netflix. ‘Nuff said.

  1. Speaking of my bed, I value having it all to myself rather than sharing.

Sharing is caring? Not with my sheets and pillows. Why should I choose a side of the bed when I can have a free range mattress? Sex with the occasional “sleep over” is fine, but I’d rather use the extra space for books, laundry and unopened mail.

  1. Relationships require a whole lotta work.

I already have a job. Besides, I reviewed the application and I’m just not all that interested. I have no time for games, politics, patience, or getting to like you.

  1. I love my best friends, isn’t that enough?

I’ve already built a level of trust and security with a few good eggs. Why would I mess that up by introducing someone into my circle who will likely not match the needs filled by my girlfriends? Yes, there’s sex, but we’ve already covered that one.

  1. Spending the evening holding…

 …a non-judgmental jug of wine or a quart of Moose Tracks? That sounds like an outstanding level of both commitment and intimacy – delicious, unconditional and definitely no lulls in the conversation. Problem solved.

  1. I don’t want to meet your family or friends.

If I wanted a room full of people to judge and criticize me I’d go back home to visit my relatives (see the first paragraph of this post).

  1. And finally, I absolutely, positively do not want you to meet my family.

This is a rinse and repeat of my previous reason. The only thing more frightening to me than meeting your family is you meeting mine.

If you are in a committed, loving relationship, good for you and go for it. Beat the odds and remain together for 50 plus years. I really am a sentimentalist at heart, but that’s not for me. I’m good in my current space and time. Should you decide to remain single, stand by your decision, be ready for push back, and enjoy the extra room in your closet and bed.

Shine brightly,
Aurora


Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this blog are not necessarily the views of eTalkTherapy. Aurora Starr is a freelance writer, NOT a therapist, and her views, thoughts and opinions are her own. Aurora’s blog may not be suitable for all audiences.


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Aurora StarrAbout the author: Aurora Starr is a freelance writer and connoisseur of all things dipped in love and deep fried in soul. She lives in Northern California, but hails from the heartland of Ohio. Aurora writes on topics ranging from love to pop culture to psychology and sex, with the occasional soapbox diatribe.