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

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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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

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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.

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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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.

Meet Therapist Bridgette Petras

Join us in welcoming our new therapist Bridgette Petras to our growing eTalkTherapy family! Bridgette’s therapeutic style is supportive, highly individualized and focuses on helping clients find healthy ways to cope with life stressors. Bridgette’s areas of focus include dependency issues as well as depression and anxiety. Get to know more about Bridgette in our Q&A:

Therapist Bridgette Petras

What does therapy mean to you?

Helping someone untangle their thoughts and gain insight that is supportive of self growth.

What makes therapy successful?

Having a great rapport and continuing to support and encourage self growth.

How has COVID-19 shaped your role as a therapist?

Yes, COVID-19 has challenged me to adjust to doing therapy over the phone compared to face to face in my office.

Describe yourself in three words?  

Creative, curious, and honest.

What was the last book you read? Thoughts on it?

“Greenlights” by Matthew McConaughey – I’m reading it now.

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

Leonardo DiCaprio ( because he’s my favorite actor and I’m impressed with his humanitarian work and support).

Share something about yourself that others would be surprised to learn?

I studied the Arabic language in Morocco.

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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 counseling session with Bridgette.

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Meet therapist Brady Figuly

Breaking the Ice with Therapist Brady Figuly

Therapist Brady Figuly with his new catJoin us in welcoming our new therapist Brady Figuly to our growing eTalkTherapy family, who has the unique ability to meet people where they are and he uses that skill to offer compassion and understanding in the therapeutic relationship. Brady’s areas of focus include depression and anxiety. Get to know more about Brady in our Q&A:

What does therapy mean to you?

Therapy, for me, is the safe space to process through things that have been distressing or uncomfortable for you. I became a therapist because my therapist helped me through some really hard times. When I started seeing my therapist, I started turning my life around. I was able to pick apart all of the unhelpful thoughts I had and the maladaptive behavior I learned over the years that is no longer beneficial to my healing process. I became a therapist to help those who are struggling like I was; to help people who were like me and thought they were beyond or undeserving of help or thought they were going through it alone. You are not alone. You are loved. You are important.

What makes therapy successful?

Therapy is a process. It can take a long time and feel like nothing is changing. Success is hard to find when you are in the middle of working through tough issues. Successful therapy, to me, is looking back on yourself and reflecting on things and realizing that you have made steps. Realizing that you’re not the person you used to be and that you no longer hurt like you used to. Success can be hard to define, but I look for it in the small victories every day and in recognizing that growth has been made. You made it through the thing you thought you’d never make it through.

How has COVID-19 shaped your role as a therapist?

Covid-19 presents all kinds of new challenges to therapy. It has shaped me mostly in that I’m realizing that most of us are struggling with day-to-day life. I’ve realized stress from the outside world can have huge effects, even when we are taking time for ourselves. It’s made me appreciate the importance of having people to talk to, who are willing to go through the trenches with me. Covid has shaped my role in that I am learning how to deal with these new challenges and adapt and I’m also learning that it is okay to take this stutter-step and learn how to deal with these things.

What is your life philosophy?

My life philosophy is to treat others better than you want to be treated. I think it is often very easy to meet anger and frustration with anger and frustration, meeting those feelings with acceptance and even vulnerability (when appropriate) can change the tides of the conversation and your relationship with that person. 

therapist Brady FigulyDescribe yourself in three words?

Three words to describe myself: Empathetic, calm, thoughtful 

What was the last movie you saw? Thoughts on it?

The last movie I watched was “The Fantastic Mr. Fox.” I love Wes Anderson movies (The Grand Budapest Hotel is my favorite) and this one was no different! I think most of his movies are serious enough without taking themselves too seriously. He does a great job of mixing the sad and tough parts of life into absolutely hilarious, witty. and just generally comforting movies.

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

If I could meet someone, living or dead, I think that I would want to meet Mac Miller. I am a huge fan of his art and it breaks my heart that he was taken so soon.

Share something about yourself that others would be surprised to learn?

Some people might be surprised to learn: I love hockey and have played three different kinds of throughout my life. I played dek (on foot) hockey from 9th grade to freshman year of college, ice from 8th to 10th grade, and roller all four years of college.

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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 counseling session with Brady.

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

Welcome Therapist Alicia McAllister

Meet Therapist Alicia McAllister

Therapist Alicia McAllister
My fiancé and I went to Paris, in December 2019, to celebrate my 26th birthday as well as to visit my brother, who was there for study abroad. At the end of the trip we all flew back home to make it in time for Christmas.  🙂

Join us in welcoming our new therapist Alicia McAllister to our growing eTalkTherapy family, who brings with her a wealth of experience and a refreshing perspective on the importance of therapy and what makes therapy successful. Alicia’s areas of focus include depression and anxiety. Get to know more about Alicia in this Q&A:

What does therapy mean to you?

To me, therapy means that there is always a path to recovery. It is a safe space for everyone to feel accepted and heard.

What makes therapy successful?

What makes therapy successful is the collaboration and strong therapeutic relationship that a therapist and their client have. Having that relationship allows for the therapist and client to work as a team to help the client achieve their goals.

How has COVID-19 shaped your role as a therapist?

COVID-19 has shaped my role as a therapist by helping me learn how to overcome unexpected obstacles, both in my personal and professional life, so that I can still offer support to those in need.

 What is your life philosophy?

“The meaning of life is to find your gift, the purpose of life is to share it” -unknown 

Describe yourself in three words?

Funny, Motivated, Loyal

What was the last movie you saw? Thoughts on it?

The last movie I watched was Enola Holmes on Netflix. I thought that it was a cute movie and I liked how the protagonist was witty and smart.

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

I would want to meet Fannie Lou Hamer because she played a major role in the women’s rights and civil rights movements.

Share something about yourself that others would be surprised to learn?

Others would be surprised to learn that I love musicals.

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 counseling session with Alicia.

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

Grow in Silence

One a scale of 1 to 10, how well can you handle silence? I’m only asking because I’m one of those people who can’t handle it well at all. If we were having a conversation and all of a sudden there was a peaceable lull, and we were having a sip of coffee or looking around at the sky, that would probably last me all of fifteen seconds. Before you knew it, I’d start bringing up the weather, or about birds – especially the cassowary, which I just learned can actually be quite terrible and has earned the notorious title of “world’s most dangerous bird.” I attended a Catholic university that had a convent just off campus (its Mother Superior used to serve at the school), and I attended a discernment retreat weekend there to decide if the religious life was an ideal one for me. Every evening at eight o’clock there was what was called The Great Silence until eight the following morning – during The Great Silence we were not supposed to talk at all, just spend time in quiet reflection. I made it about an hour before I found a copy of St. Francis’ biography and read it aloud, whispering into the quiet of my room just to myself, because I just needed there to be noise. Silence, it seemed to me, was just plain unattainable.

The thing is, though, I want to be a person who can sometimes be quiet. I want to be able to think about the answer to a question, or to plan ahead, or to give serious time to considering things before I do them, but it’s a skill that I really haven’t honed yet. And with my phone (which, like everyone’s, is pretty much a little computer), I have 24/7 access to not only physical noise (like podcasts and videos) but also visual noise, pictures and articles and posts just like this one.

It gets to be a lot, and to be honest, it’s a very hard habit to break. But luckily for me, the next few weeks can really be the ideal time to practice the art of silence a little bit more each day.  The sun rises a bit later, it goes down much earlier, and the night stretches out and allows for that quiet time. I find that watching the snow fall can help, too.

It’s often said that children grow the most while they’re sleeping, and Mother Teresa once noted something similar. “See how nature grows,” she said. “Trees, flowers, grass – grow in silence.  See the stars, the sun and the moon, how they move in silence.”

A lot of good things can be the fruit of a period of silence, or many small periods throughout the day. If it’s something you struggle with, I would suggest a break from social media to start. I always feel so much better when I step away from those kinds of things. Maybe try some reading, or maybe some old-fashioned letter writing. Journaling, just plain thinking, all of those count too.

I hope this little bit of silence adds some well-deserved peace to the end of a hectic year.  Who knows? Maybe it’ll help make 2021 much better, too!

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.

A Different Gratitude

Well, there’s no way around it: gratitude will look different this year. I don’t think it’s too much of a surprise – I mean, everything has looked different this year – but gratitude will, too. It may look so much smaller than it once did. For example: before, where you may have been thankful for getting to experience traveling to a faraway country as part of that really cool conference, maybe now you’re thankful for not needing to travel so there’s less chance of being sick. Before, you were thankful your son or daughter was the best athlete on the team; maybe now you’re thankful they’re home with you, because practices every night meant no family dinners during the week and now you actually get to spend time with your kids and get to really know them. Or maybe even harder: before, where you may have been thankful for your job, it may be gone now; and so your gratitude may be for the people who are keeping you afloat.

It all looks very different now, and that’s normal. That’s okay. You know what is also okay? Recognizing that the times are still very, very hard. It’s okay to acknowledge that things are looking pretty bleak in a lot of ways. The point, though, is that there are still reasons to be thankful. Pain, anger, disappointment – they can all exist alongside thankfulness and gratitude. Indeed, they ought to: because gratitude is the means to find hope – and as long as you can find hope, all is not lost.

It’s been over a year since I’ve seen my extended family, and it’s not looking like I’ll be able to in the upcoming months. It’s hard for me. I miss them, but I still cling to the text chains we send back and forth, and for the video calls we have every now and then. This Thanksgiving, because we’re all in our various states of quarantine, we’re trying to arrange one of my favorite traditions: the playing of a board game after dinner. I’m sure it’ll be chaos: there might be Internet struggles because the whole country will be reaching out virtually at the same time; the kids may be out of control and coming down off of a pumpkin pie sugar high; everyone may be sad because this is just not the way we do things. But we’re going to try anyway, and I hope you try too, in whatever way makes you happy.

I’m thankful for you, for the chance to reach out and encourage you every now and then. I’m thankful for all of the great things you do for others, even if they’re little things, and even if no one thinks they’re a big deal. And I’m thankful, like so many, that this year is almost over! Can’t wait for the next one!

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.

Opening the Door

Opening the Door

In our home, the wood sometimes swells up when it gets humid outside, so it’s not unusual that our doors stick and won’t open if they’re shut pretty hard. One easy way to tell that it’s getting to autumn and winter in our home is to see if the doors close all the way; another is to note that our bread (which we make at home) doesn’t fall apart as easily like it does in the summertime.

Earlier this year, during the door-swelling season, it happened that my son was pretty angry. We had taken something away from him as a punishment for his behavior, and as retaliation, he ran into his room and slammed his door as hard as he could. After a few long minutes of the kind of full-throated screaming that most kids save for the angriest of days, he calmed down and decided to leave his room.

Except he couldn’t: he was stuck.

He pulled and pulled at his door, but the top of the doorjamb was swollen and wouldn’t budge. This, of course, led to more screaming, this time out of a mixture of anger and panic; and after we opened it (after a lot of banging at the top of the door), he needed a spoonful of honey to soothe his sore throat. He had calmed down from his initial anger, but he still found himself trapped.

I thought about that, and about how we can all be trapped by anger too. Do you ever feel that way? You’re angry about something, even furious; and even when you calm down, you find that you’re still not very far away from the fury at all. And over time, your perspective on life becomes informed by your anger, to the point when you feel angry all of the time.

There’s been times in my life when I’ve felt that way. I’ve felt that my anger was “right,” and that because I was “correct” and no one else seemed to be, that made it even worse. I became trapped in my anger until I realized that it was just another form of control. I was trying to control those around me, and when they didn’t act how I wanted them to – even if I was angry about the “right things” – I would get upset. It took me so long (and I still forget sometimes) that in general, people are going to be how they are until they change – if they ever do – and it was better for everyone involved if I lived my life the best I could and let others do that too.

Anger and control can be friends. They can be the door and that which swells it. But maybe there’s a way we can help keep it manageable. In our home, we learned that we didn’t need to wait for cooler temperatures to calm things down – we bought a dehumidifier and that helped so much. If you struggle with anger, how can you “dehumidify” it? What are some things we can do  – things we CAN control – to help soothe our spirits?

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.