Woman hand holding a card with text can't over cement background
Christy Gualtieri

Rising to the Challenge

I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of it, but November is “NaNoWriMo” (National Novel Writing Month).  Writers all across the country take up the challenge to write – or complete – a novel in only one month, relying on their wit, their perseverance, their talent, and a strong online community of other writers and editors to get the job done. Although most novels completed during NaNoWriMo challenges don’t make it to publication, some do, most famously Sara Gruben’s “Water For Elephants,” which was also adapted into a film starring Robert Pattinson and Reese Witherspoon.

I have half-heartedly attempted to consider starting a NaNoWriMo challenge – I never got as far as typing a single word – but, ultimately, I’ve decided that it wasn’t for me, at least not in this particularly busy season of my life. I do appreciate the value of challenges, however, especially ones set in constrained time periods. The Whole 30 challenge was pretty popular for a while too, and on social media it’s not uncommon to see creative challenges that center around posting pictures or blog posts each day based on a particular theme.

The idea of challenges is really interesting to me. I can see the value in it – it’s neat to see how we act differently when we are exposed to things that change our routine so steadily over such a long period of time. And those changes can work for the better, too. (I’m Catholic, and I see the benefits of fasting/small acts of self-denial that we partake in every year for the weeks of Lent, just before Easter.) Community plays a big role too, and an important one: you get a great sense of “we’re all in this together.

But for people who suffer from anxiety or low self-esteem, the idea – or the reality – of not meeting those challenges can be difficult to bounce back from. Not finishing a NaNoWriMo project, a Whole 30 food challenge, or whatever you tried can bring on the negative self-talk pretty much instantly: “I’m a failure. I knew I couldn’t do it.” It’s enough to not make us want to try again.

So what’s the secret to a successful challenge? I’m not 100% sure, but I think it probably has something to do with not taking them too seriously and adapting more of a “so what?” attitude. “If I don’t write a whole novel, so what? I wrote a lot more than I would have!” “If I eat some cheese on the elimination diet, so what? It’s helped me figure out that I feel worse when I do eat it, so it’s a bonus.” Trying to bring up the positives takes a lot of work, but it might also lead to success. That same positive self-talk works well in real life too, not just in a challenge setting. Maybe this month we can think about some ways we can change our thinking from negative to positive and see where that takes us!

Do you like to take up monthly challenges? What’s been your experience so far? Make sure to let us know any tips for success in the comments!

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.

Three jack-o-lanterns
Christy Gualtieri

Hope, Perseverance and The Great Pumpkin

There are three things I have learned never to discuss with people: religion, politics, and the Great Pumpkin.” – Linus

As a child of the 1980s, TV played a pretty instrumental role in how I saw the passing of time, especially when it came to holiday specials. One of my family’s favorite TV specials in the Fall was “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown,” which would air every year – and thankfully still does! Every October we would sit down to watch Charlie Brown and the gang, laughing at Linus stricken expressions, Lucys hilariously ironic Halloween costume mask, Charlie Browns costume (and his Halloween “candy”), and Snoopys WWI-era adventure through the “French countryside.” Everything about it – Vince Guaraldis jaunty soundtrack, the animation, and even the beautiful watercolor-esque detail of the cartoons backgrounds – signaled to me as a kid that Fall was really, truly here.

Charlie Browns adventures, no matter which you choose (and there are plenty to choose from) have always focused on both the innocence – and brutality – of childhood, particularly in terms of bullying, of which Lucy is the ringleader and reigning champion. Usually, the victim is the hapless Charlie Brown, but this particular episode focuses on his best friend, the philosophical Linus, and his faith in a being called the Great Pumpkin. According to Linus, the Great Pumpkin rises from a pumpkin patch every Halloween, but not just any pumpkin patch – the one of a true believer, the “most sincere.”  Naturally, because no one else shares his belief, they mostly dismiss Linus as insane and treat him as such throughout most of the episode. The other kids go trick-or-treating and then to a Halloween party, making sure to stop by the patch to let Linus (and Charlie Brown’s sister, Sally, who decided to wait with him) know how much fun they’re missing.

But Linus perseveres, staying out in the pumpkin patch well into the night, needing to be escorted inside by his sister after the Great Pumpkin doesn’t show. The next morning when Charlie Brown, in an effort to commiserate with Linus, brings up how “he’s done stupid things too,” Linus explodes in indignation and doubles down on his resolve to make next year’s patch even better.

That resilience, along with the sheer tradition of the show, is a major reason why I think this special has resonated with so many people over the 50 years since it first aired. It speaks to all of our desires to get back up again after we’ve been knocked down. This is not the first year Linus has attempted to meet the Great Pumpkin; yet he continues to forswear his candy and treats (not to mention the constant ridicule) to greet him. Charlie Brown is told by Lucy, in no uncertain terms, that he was not invited to the Halloween party, yet he still overcomes his shame and attends anyway. What makes the Peanuts gang such a mainstay is that no matter how terrible and difficult life can be, we can still hope for greater things.

If you get the chance, make sure to catch “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” when it comes around on TV this year. It’s great fun to watch, and will hopefully give your spirits a boost, too!

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.

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

woman relaxing on a wicker chair
Christy Gualtieri

The Passing of Time

I grew up in South Florida, where the weather is pretty much the same year-round: hot and humid.  At Christmastime, folks string lights through palm fronds and set out ice-cold drinks for Santa as they slide into bed with a t-shirt and shorts on, searching outside on Christmas morning for sights of reindeer tracks with flip-flops on their feet. When we moved to New Jersey, the more pronounced seasons were the way to mark time: when the leaves turned colors and fell you knew it was Autumn; when they dripped with fresh, cool raindrops it was Spring. In Western Pennsylvania, it’s still the same – we have our cooler months, snowfalls, rainfalls, and warmer months; but we find different ways to mark time now, and even earlier than we probably should.

Halloween candy is out and ready to go on the grocery store shelves in the beginning of August; so are the costumes. Pumpkin-flavored everything is in full bloom weeks before the regular NFL season begins; and in some big-box stores, the Christmas supplies are already lining the back shelves, inching closer to the front-and-center displays.  My mother passed away January 31st – the day after Valentine’s Day, the Mother’s Day cards were on display, something I was entirely unready for.

(To quote one of my favorite comedians, Pete Holmes: “Not too get all Andy Rooney on ya, but…”) We used to know time by the seasons, but now they’re changing.  We used to know by holidays, but now they’re being pushed up the calendar to the point of absurdity. We are in such a rush to get to the next mile, the next place to stop – only when we get there, we’re so anxious to get to the next one.  We finish an episode of a show and let it roll on to the next once, barely processing what we’ve just taken in. We finish an audio book and tap the button for the next one without a thought. We are in such a hurry.

But where are we going? Where are you going?

If this is something you struggle with, I get it. I’m the same way, and I’ve sadly gotten to the point where if I think of being quiet even for just five minutes in a row, it makes me want to cry for the impossibility of it.  I know the only way out of it is through it – to train myself to be away from media/my phone/TV/radio for a minute at a time to rebuild that muscle of just being able to occupy myself without any outside influence. And it’s hard.  But it’s so, so worth it.

Our time matters, and it’s fleeting.  It’s one minute after another after another, but it won’t always be that way. As you go through your week this week, what’s something you can try to string those moments along in silence, and to give yourself the space to simply observe the world around you? You may start to discover the path you’re on, and all of the exciting things that come with deciding if you want to stay on it or not, or choose something new and wonderful.

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.