Let’s Learn About Trauma

Here’s short article about trauma and some affects it has on the brame

But I’m not Ready! Shedding Our Masks and Maintaining Change as We Return to Work, School, and Those All-Important Social Connections

A COVID perspective, 2021

I’ve been watching the news and kind of keeping up on vaccination rates.

It seems like just about everybody who wants a vaccine and is ready to get it, has one. Those who don’t are either hesitating due to a fear they may have, do not want to get it, or just haven’t quite gotten around to it yet.

But they are available, for those who want one, from what I can see.

I’m referring to the COVID vaccines, of course.

As a mental health therapist, I talk with people about what’s bugging them, what’s going well, and we work together to come up with ideas about how to help things they’d like to be different go a little more smoothly, and things that are going well to help stay that way or get better.

The primary groups of people I work with are teens, parents of teens, and people who may be struggling with life transitions or working to have fewer symptoms from depression, anxiety, or ADHD.

I also really like to notice random things people say, and tend to talk to people I see either at the grocery, while waiting in line for an appointment, or to the person sitting next to me at Pilates class.

A year ago, we were (sort of) getting used to wearing masks. It was right about this time that I purchased 5 from a local retailer, in some colors I wear, to coordinate with my outfits.

I wear glasses if I want to see well or read, so I began commiserating with other people who wear glasses that I saw around me.

‘Have you figured out how to wear a mask without fogging up your glasses?’ I might ask, as my glasses fogged from breathing into my mask, and I noticed someone else’s were also fogging, but less so.

‘My husband can’t wear that kind of mask with glasses either. He has to wear the kind that comes up on your nose’, I remember a kind soul telling me during one such experience.

I noticed that some faces tend to pull the mask down below a person’s nose as they speak, and some people have voices that come through the mask clear as a bell, while other people seem to experience a very much muted effect once the mask covers their mouth.

I recently read back over a couple of articles I wrote in March and May 2020, wondering what kind of differences this mandated isolation may cause for people. How our work habits might change, and how kids doing fewer activities might change family dynamics.

I met with someone earlier in the week, and we have been meeting in person since late fall. She was the second person this week who mentioned wearing lipstick ‘again’, and now transitioning to caring about the bottom of her face when she is out where other people can see her.

I had a teen that I meet with discuss that a downside of wearing masks is the acne it causes underneath the mask, and the upside is that the mask will then cover the acne so people do not see it.

Now that schools are beginning to open up (depending on your area, of course), and sports are having fans again, some of our old habits may come back, or may be altered.

How do we transition from working from home without commutes?

One thing I’ve noticed, as a social person, is the camraderie I feel with other people who are also social who have had a hard time with the lack of social interactions in the last year.

At Starbucks, where I continue to frequent, I have gone inside a few times, and even sat outside at a table for a moment taking a break from working or while talking with co-workers.

I saw someone sitting at a table I hadn’t noticed was there, and we spoke briefly about the benefits of being able to do some work at a coffee shop, and particularly the benefits of that somewhat hidden table where he sat.

I hesitate before I walk into stores or buildings, as the Texas rule is that a business may decide whether or not someone needs to wear mask inside. As I do that, I have had a couple of other people hesitate with me as we look at each other and either put on a mask, or continue inside with the mask at the ready in our hands.

Someone asked me yesterday what I was reading, as I walked outside for a brief break from work. We talked about the book, titled ‘The Body Keeps The Score’, and she wrote it down to help her remember to read it.

One goal I have, as an almost 2 year resident of the state (or country, as I like to call it) of Texas is to increase my in person social connections. I attended church last weekend, and was approached by a few people to welcome me.

I mentioned that I was new-ish to the area, and that this is the type of church I was brought up in. For those wondering, I was brought up in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). I spent a lot of time there, and feel comfortable attending the service even when I didn’t know anyone.

A woman approached me, and shook my hand. I was startled, but shook it back, and introduced myself to her. Her name is Abbie, and she also introduced me to another new friend, Stacy. We spoke for a few minutes, then dispersed to other activities of the day. We briefly talked about being glad that we were given the option, if comfortable, to attend the service without a mask.

I could smile at them, and they smiled back.

A social connection, even if just for the moment.

I’ll be really interested to hear, sociologically, how this generation of kids, 20 somethings, and middle age adults are affected by this last year of health concerns and social isolation.

in 2008-2009, we had recession that affected a lot of industries and people. Going back a little farther, in 2001, there was an attack on multiple sites in America that we frequently refer to as 9-11.

My own children, being in there almost mid-twenties, have now lived through a major life event at around the age of 3, a recession that affected both of their parents’ incomes during 2008-2009, and now a pandemic that prevented them from having an in-person graduation from college.

When I called my son early last May, I asked him if he was celebrating graduating and getting ready to move onto his next steps.

‘Feels more like a funeral’ he said, matter of factly. He and his brother walked around campus and took some amazing pictures, that included very few people.

As I watch my friends’ kids go through their own college graduation ceremony this year, I have some conflicting thoughts.

I see the proud smiles on the parents’ faces, the giant gowns the graduates wear with mortar boards and tassels, and think ‘my kids didn’t do that. My kids shared a graduation gown that their friend bought, and took turns taking each other’s pictures’. My son’s girlfriend was a great help in getting those pictures taken, and appeared in a few.

I asked her this year, as I was able to be with all three of them for what would have been the weekend of their college graduations, if she wanted to take a picture in a graduation gown. She said, quickly-

‘That depends. Could I wear one in a color I like??’

I appreciated her candor, and couldn’t help but remember the downsides from my own in-person graduation from Indiana University. My husband and I sat by each other-and commiserated. We would marry just over a year later.

It was hot, it was too crowded for all of the proud parents and grandparents who attended, and I couldn’t understand what was being said due to the echo in the football stadium at Indiana University that day in May, 1993.

The person who stated to me, earlier in the week, that she wasn’t ready to wear makeup like lipstick regularly, and wanted a little more warning that we are coming out of the pandemic, really stuck with me.

How are you, as a person who was affected in some way by the past year’s change in pace, preparing for upcomg changes as some things go back to in-person, and some things remain remote?

How are you maintaining your peace, and social connections, as you may have to return to your office for a set number of days?

What are you going to continue to do, that you’ve enjoyed doing for the past year, that you didn’t make time for before March of 2020?

I hope you find a way to ride your bike if you like to do that.

I hope you continue with your mental health therapy if that has been helpful to you. I also hope you continue to allow your child, who may participate in a lot of activities and have a lot of success, but also be anxious, depressed, or have an ADHD brain, to continue with their mental health therapy.

I’m really glad I don’t have to wear a mask as often anymore, at least for the moment. I really like to wear my very large glasses that help me see from different focal points, and they just aren’t as fun when I am coordinating them with a mask.

Thankfulness: Thanksgiving, Tradition Changes and COVID

I’ve got to admit, Thanksgiving used to be my least favorite holiday. Here are some things I’m not really a fan of:

Turkey

waiting to eat

As a child, pitch-ins, or food I didn’t know what it was made of. I was (and am, if I’m being honest) a picky eater. If food was brought in by someone else, it was hard to know what foods that I might not like were in it.

Thanksgiving always seemed to be a time of waiting until I was really hungry, or snacking to fend off the hunger, and then not being hungry for the meal.

Then there were lots of foods prepared that I may or may not want, and the pressure to eat them. Later, there was the fact that others had a lack of interest in eating dinner because they had overeaten.

I rarely miss a meal, so that doesn’t really work for me.

Now some might say that a reason I am not a huge fan of turkey may have something to do with the amount of time my grandma cooked it. My grandma was one of the nicest, kindest, most pleasant people I have ever met. She had lots of great skills, and there are many, many things I miss about her.

Cooking a turkey? Well, I’m not going to say that was among her list of greatest talents. So for the first 16 or so years of my life, we spent Thanksgiving at my grandma’s house, with a turkey that had been cooked past its prime.

I’ve come around though.

As a kid, we talked about being thankful, and what we were thankful for. We also talked about the story of the Pilgrims and the Indians (the term Native American would come later) sitting down and eating together, recognizing that working together worked best for them. As I learned more about history, I realized that there is a little more to that story.

As an adult, I find the Thanksgiving holiday a beginning, and a time to rest and reflect.

It’s a time to start thinking about the Christmas season, which has always been a time of celebration in extra ways due to my children’s birthday being Christmas Eve.

It’s a time to have a long weekend, without a ton of traditions and hurry. We have a meal, on Thursday. For many years, we alternated spending Thanksgiving with my side of the family and my husband’s. In the past few years, our traditions have become much more fluid.

My in-laws moved out of state; my Aunt and Uncle, who had hosted Thanksgiving since my teens, both passed in the same year; my brother began hosting; and then we moved to Texas.

Then my boys had the audacity to continue to grow up, graduating from college and moving on to their next things.

This year, Thanksgiving is looking different for a lot of us.

We have a global pandemic, with recommendations to keep our gatherings to a small number of people to help avoid the spread of the virus.

Things that people have done for years and years, to indicate the Thanksgiving holiday, are changing for many of us.

For me, I will spend today with my husband and one of my sons. The three of us will eat some turkey, some pie, and several sides that I’m sure will include quite a few leftovers.

I’m looking forward to trying something new, knowing if it tastes terrible I’ll toss it and eat something else.

Today I’m thankful for the chance to sit quietly and begin the day, waiting for the sun to come up. Watching the sky lighten, I know today will be a fairly nice day. Someday I may take the sunshine and temperate weather that we get here in Texas for granted, but I’m not there yet.

I’m thankful that we have the ability to decide who to be around, and that we are not currently ill. Knowing how many families are missing members for the first time this year, and other families where people are ill or quarantined as they recover, makes me aware of how rough that is and how grateful I am for health.

I’m thankful for the chance to begin the holiday season, knowing that Christmas traditions may also look different for many of us. This Christmas season will include thinking about how to be creative, in order to spend time together in ways that may look and feel different.

I’m still wondering how all of these changes in traditions and work patterns may affect us going forward, when the pandemic does not have such a daily affect in terms of risk to our health, and is more about determining what the middle ground is for changes that we’ve made in the last year.

As you think about your holiday traditions, those that you are keeping and those that you are switching up this year, what things are you grateful for?

What do you think about, as you wake up and prepare for your day? Are you spending it similarly to previous years, or differently?

What about today do you look forward to, and what do you wish were different?

2020 has certainly been a year of changing the status quo.

Mental Health: Everyone Makes Mistakes, Anxiety and ADHD

Remember the song from Sesame Street? (you may want to ask a parent if you are under 40)

“Everyone makes mistakes oh yes, they do…..

Your sister and your brother and your dad and mother too…

big people

small people

matter of fact, ALL People…”

well, you get the idea.

We all have a tendency to make mistakes. What we don’t all have the tendency to do, is to be aware of how to be tolerant of others when they make mistakes. Even more importantly, we have to learn to be tolerant of ourselves when WE make mistakes.

Maybe the song should have gone something like this:

“Please remember this when you type on your social media page

Or yell at your spouse

or your child

or….yourself”

I write a lot about leadership and how important it is to foster a trusting relationship. I write about encouraging questions and an environment of learning.

What I haven’t written as much about is how to be OK with our own errors, and to work through those anxious feelings when mistakes happen. For adults with ADHD tendencies, or diagnosed ADHD, those learned behaviors of feeling anxious about behaviors and actions can result in a whole lot of anxiety.

Ever think back on a social event and think ‘why did I say that?? I probably shouldn’t have. I wish I could go back in time and not say it’.

This rumination, or thinking about the same thing over and over again, is a huge part of attention differences. Anxiety co-occurs with ADHD with a really high frequency, and can have a real negative affect on social relationships, sleep, and our own self-talk and self-care.

I’m really fascinated by the ADHD brain.

The ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) brain is different from brains which may be more neurotypical.

ADHD isn’t really about not being able to pay attention.

It is a different wiring of the brain, which can be either over or under-stimulated.

Let’s take an example of someone who has been diagnosed with ADHD.

That person may be able to focus intently on a specific task at times (referred to as hyperfocusing), and struggle to give attention to something they need to focus on at others.

As a parent to a child with those behaviors, it may seem that the child focuses on what they like, or what they want to, but not on what they need to focus on, such as completing chores or schoolwork.

The parent may then experience frustration and express that to their child in a negative way, perhaps by using a loud voice.

The child may then become anxious and worried about forgetting tasks, which creates a cycle of lower success.

Here are a few things that can help a child who has an ADHD brain to have more success:

Provide structure. Have a routine of tasks that need to be completed. The child then has more predictability and may know ‘OK, after dinner I do my homework. After homework I take my bath and get ready for bed’

Another idea is to break tasks into smaller chunks instead of listing everything out at once. A child who hears ‘Take your shoes upstairs, then put these clean clothes away, then I need you to come back down to finish your homework’ may take their clothes upstairs, notice they left out their game from earlier, and begin playing it.

The caregiver may then become upset with the child for not listening, and the child may become more and more anxious as the parent gives them a list of tasks because of their fear of forgetting.

The ADHD brain fires differently, and as with all things, we are still learning about how this works.

I encourage you, as an adult reading this article who may have a brain with ADHD or attention differences, to continue to educate yourself about how your brain may work differently than someone who does not have attention differences.

I encourage you, as a parent who may be reading this who experiences frustration, to give your child structure and provide small chunks of instructions instead of lists of them. To say ‘I need you to go upstairs and do 2 things. Take your shoes up and put your clothes away.’

You have then told the child how many things to do (2), and what those two things are. The child has a better chance of remembering to complete them because they may have focused on the number of things to do, or they may have focused what their tasks are. Having listed both the number of items and the tasks help to increase their chances of completing the requested tasks.

I then encourage you to monitor your child for success. Encourage them to recognize that they did complete a task, and to know you are both seeking and expecting them to have success, and that you are seeking less frustration from both of you.

As you and they continue to make mistakes, as you and they both will, remember the song I referenced at the beginning of this article. In this time of COVID, we’re learning a little more about our own tendencies and our children’s as we spend more time interacting and learning new patterns and habits.

Everyone makes mistakes oh yes they do…..

Leadership: Using Empathy ‘I Hear You Saying You Are Frustrated’

So anyone who lives in the US (or really, in the world) knows that there has been a recent election in the US.

It was, or is, a very tight race, with lots of people voting for the candidates whom they feel best represent their interests, their level of comfort, and numerous other reasons that compel people to vote.

Record numbers of people have voted, which affects local races, the Senate, Congress, and the election for the next leader of our country.

As a leader, both in parenting my children and as a leader in my work environments, I tend to have a lot of opinions about characteristics of leaders and what I find useful in bringing out the work/change in others that we are working together to accomplish.

A story of when I was first hired to be a supervisor of staff:

I was 28, and my two children who were born on the same day were just about 1 years old. I had been providing mental health therapy to families who were involved with Child Protective Services, and had learned about a program called Healthy Families. A difference between Healthy Families and the work I had been doing was the timing of the intervention to assist kids who were at risk for being abused or neglected by their caregivers. The program is intended for families who have a certain level of assessed need.

Healthy Families targets families who are going to care for an infant, and has to begin within the first 3 months of the child’s life. The research has been pretty clear that children who receive prevention/protective services fare better in terms of lowering their likelihood of being abused of neglected compared to those families who do not receive that support. The criteria to qualify for services at the time period in which I was working was a pretty low amount of documented risk, and families chose to be a part of the program.

I was hired to supervise this program that was new to two of the counties in which I had been working. I was promoted from my position as home based therapist/caseworker, to Healthy Families Supervisor.

A few benefits to me were the following: I had a predictable time to finish work each day, which was generally before the day care my children attended closed; I was able to be a part of something which I truly believed in and wanted to support; and I could utilize my skills/training in mental health to supervise entry level staff. I went from being a peer to several other employees, to having no peers. I got to jump in and lead two staff who were fairly new to the company and learn with them how to implement the program. I was also able to retain just a few clients I had been meeting with for counseling and of course, continue to parent and lead my children to be functioning adults.

I noticed that utilizing empathy when a staff is feeling frustrated helped them to perform better.

If I had a staff who was stressed about trying to schedule the number of families that they were seeing, particularly taking into account the distance the families lived from each other, I could identify the emotion that the staff was feeling by naming it and then have a discussion with them about their interpretation of what could help.

Example: I hear that you are feeling frustrated about getting all of your families scheduled. It sounds like you are concerned about driving distances between each client, while you are also wanting to make sure to get them all scheduled. That must be stressful.

The above is an example of empathy. I’m verbalizing that I hear that they are frustrated, which they may have specifically stated, and I am summarizing what I am hearing that they are frustrated about. I am then stating the stress that I am interpreting that is causing them.

One difference that we have among us is that we tend to use different words to express our feelings. I might say frustrated, and the staff member may correct me and state they are not frustrated, they are irritated. Or angry, or sad about it.

Me naming the correct emotional label was less important than me indicating that I heard what they were saying, with an opportunity for them to correct me if needed.

Leading with empathy can be very effective in getting desired results both at work and in the home enviornment with parenting children.

With kids, I will give a different example, which involves my then 4 year old son.

He was hungry, or wanted to play something different, or had some sort of need.

I don’t remember specifically what we were having a disagreement about, but I do remember getting quite frustrated and raising my voice to a higher volume. I was repeating myself, and he was repeating himself, and we were not communicating well

He stopped and yelled my name:

Mom!! I get frustrated when you use that voice to yell at me!’

As you may be able to tell, he had spent four years of his life (so far) with a therapist for a mother. He wasn’t getting his needs met, which for arguments sake was a snack before dinner.

I wasn’t getting my need met, which was for him to accept that I had told him ‘no’ and to move on to something else

We both started using loud voices, which can be hard on our ears and unpleasant to hear.

When he yelled my name, I stopped and listened. He was able to express his feelings, and to name his own emotion. This story includes an ‘I-statement’ and it indicates that he was listening and hearing my loud voice.

As we all work toward having peaceful moments, I encourage you to think about how you can show empathy for others.

How can you, as someone who is hearing someone say something, indicate that you are hearing what they are saying and understand what they are saying about how they feel?

In graduate school, at the University of Cincinnati, we had a whole course on practicing reflective listening and using empathy. We practiced with each other, and it felt awkward at first.

As you are working to get your needs met and yourself heard, how do you respond when someone shows empathy to you? Do you feel more heard and listened to when the person you are speaking with names the feeling you have or reflects back what you have said?

I challenge you to work to increase the amount of empathy that you show. I encourage you to speak in ways that show the person you are talking with that you hear not just the words they are saying, but also the emotions behind it.

Phase 2, Coronavirus: Hitting our Stride and Moving Forward

We heard this spring that there may be a second wave of Coronavirus as people started to re-emerge from their homes.

Texas, which is a state with soooo many people, seems to be experiencing that at the moment.

There are a lot of debates and different opinions about why the numbers have gone up so much. There is certainly more testing than there was in March, that is clear. There are also more people who are younger contracting the virus than did initially. These younger people tend to be surviving the virus, which is a positive.

So some might ask: is it that older people are more likely to stay home and not be infected? Are young people more likely to go out in close proximity to others and catch it? Has the virus mutated and evolved to be less deadly than initially thought?

And then there is the mask controversy.

Some people, me included, have accepted that masks are a part of going out these days. Whether they protect you, or others from you, they certainly contain germs differently than not wearing a mask. Sneezing and coughing, once thought to be a part of life which could be allergies, getting over a cold, or any number of innocuous reasons, is now a part of a regime of questions you get if you go to a medical provider or appointment.

Others feel that masks are infringing on their rights. I have heard some state that they don’t believe that the Coronavirus is ‘real’. I’m not sure exactly what that means, other than that their opinion is that people’s cause of death is being attributed to the Coronavirus vs. some other reason.

Regardless of people’s opinions, people’s lives are directly affected.

Children have not been to organized school since March. They have spent time with their parents, or childcare providers, to a degree that they had not previously.

Each school system that I have read about, which includes the school systems near me (Allen ISD, McKinney ISD, and Frisco ISD, and those in Hamilton County, Indiana), have communicated that school will be held, but parents will have the choice of sending their children to school or having on-line school for their children.

This gives parents and children the ability to choose, which hopefully will reduce anxiety in children, parents and even teachers who may have smaller classrooms. I can remember after Noblesville had a school shooting in 2018, that many students were anxious about returning to school that next fall.

I had multiple parents talk with me about having their child go to online school. At that time, if a student did not attend school they could not play on a sports team. This caused a lot of stress to families who had a child who wanted to play sports but was feeling very anxious about attending school.

I’m glad that parents will have the choice whether to send their children to school or participate in online school. My guess is, many parents are hesitant to send their children to school for fear of their child contracting the Coronavirus.

For other parents, their children need to be in school, and their parents need for them to be in school.

I’ve noticed that there is a lot of variability in people’s nervousness/anxiety about contracting the virus. I think it would be interesting to know the health background of people who are more anxious vs. people who are less.

The fact that this has become a political issue seems very surprising to me.

For you, as you think about the number of people who have contracted the virus and your risk, what are some thoughts you have about how to stay safe?

What are things that are comforting to you, and what are some new restrictions that are frustrating to you and you do not find helpful?

How do you communicate to your friends and loved ones your level of need for protectiveness from contracting the virus and staying safe?

Are you someone who wants to support local businesses and tends to order carry-out food? Are you someone who is comfortable eating in a restaurant?

Have you widened your circle to beyond your house so that you can see friends and family?

I have many friends and family in Indiana, where the numbers appear to be going down, and I live in Texas, which is making national news for having higher numbers of people who have tested positive for the virus.

It is interesting to see, on social media and through talking with friends and family, the different responses that people have to the suggestions of masks and measures to take to stay safe.

I hope you stay safe today, and in the future.

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