Author Archives: Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP

About Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP

Communications and relationship specialist, counselor, Imago Relationship Therapist, businesswoman, mother, proud native Nashvillian - in private practice for 30+ years. I have the privilege of helping to mend broken hearts. Contact me at www.susanhammondswhite.com.

The Other Side of the Couch – Patience Rewarded

Kara 2022

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When a feline companion of eighteen years left us last May, I knew that at some point I would want to adopt another cat.  Our resident cat, Jasmine, now ten years old, came to us at age two when her first family moved to New Zealand.  She and Oscar became friends – he was ten at the time – and although they were never buddies, they did tolerate each other to the extent that they sometimes even sat on the bed together.

Jasmine adapted well to being on her on, especially because the pandemic has resulted in my being home almost all the time.  However, as things began to open, it became apparent that she would be home alone for some stretches of time, and I was worried about that for her.  She had always been with other animals.

We decided to adopt a younger cat in hopes that they would become playmates.  Alas – best-laid plans – when we went to the cat rescue to choose a cat, we were chosen – by a nine-year-old female named Kara.  She was a greeter – she was seated in a small box on a table right next to the door as we came in, and she was friendly right away.  We looked around, and we spent time with several of the younger cats (there were twenty-five cats roaming around) – but the one we thought we had come for turned out to be “playful” in a bit of a rough way.  My husband wanted none of that – and Kara was our choice.

In adopting an older, female cat and attempting to integrate her into our home with an even-older female cat, we were embarking of a journey that would require patience!

So began the Saga of Jasmine and Kara, a continuing story told in weekly installments to an avid audience of friends.  Following the instructions gleaned from our cat whisperer friend and from Jackson Galaxy YouTube videos, we began by not even allowing the two cats to see each other.  Kara was whisked into the house and placed in a secure room with her own box, food bowls, toys and water. This happened to be the room in which we watch TV, so she would be sure of company in the evening.  The next steps were to exchange scents – rub old socks or t-shirts on each cat and put those objects in the other cat’s areas.  Next we moved Kara into another room for a bit and let Jasmine into the TV room to sniff around.  We did this repeatedly.

The next step was crucial – we put up baby gates at one of the entrances to the TV room and began to crack the door open when both cats were eating – thus creating an association with “seeing other cat equals getting food”.  We quickly learned that Kara is an agile escape artist who could climb right over those gates!  However, they did serve the purpose of allowing visual contact if they were monitored.  I also learned that as soon as Jasmine saw Kara that I needed to pet her (the resident cat!), reassure her that this interloper did not mean she had lost us, and play with her using her favorite toy, a fishing pole with feathers attached.

This journey began in September.  We are now at the point at which both Jasmine and Kara are out and about in the house during the day.  Jasmine is the dominant cat – a Maine Coon mix weighing in at twelve pounds; however, Kara, a long-haired black tabby with Maine Coon features as well, and weighing about eight pounds, is a little acrobat and very interested in joining with and playing with Jasmine.

This has not yet occurred, but I would say that the possibility exists that they could end up on a bed together. It has taken patience, time, and determination – some would say why work so hard?  In part it is because we were chosen – but also it is within our ability to provide a safe and loving home to an older cat – and the rewards of that choice are many.  We love them both, quirks and all, and I have hope that the patience we are all displaying will be rewarded.  

Patience is an old-fashioned virtue – in our fast-paced and throw-away society, we are not used to delaying gratification or waiting for things to unfold.  Jasmine and Kara are teaching us time-honored truths by showing us that it takes time to adapt, to trust, and to create new connections.  It will not be rushed – it takes the time it takes – a timely reminder that even fear and conflict can be mitigated by patience and a good meal!

About Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP

About Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP
Communications and relationship specialist, counselor, Imago Relationship Therapist, businesswoman, mother, proud native Nashvillian – in private practice for 35+ years. I have the privilege of helping to mend broken hearts. Contact me at http://www.susanhammondswhite.com.
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The Other Side of the Couch – Goodbye and Hello

Sunset

The turning of the year is for many a time of reflection – what has this last year brought to us; what are we leaving behind; what are we welcoming in the year ahead.  As I write this post, we are experiencing yet another wave of COVID-19 distress as the Omicron variant has become the dominant disease vector; we do not yet know enough about this variant to predict much about it other than that it is more contagious than the two prior variants – we hope it is less lethal.

This year for me has been a year of facing loss and mortality.  My brother, brother-in-law, sister and aunt all died of cancer this year – I am the oldest of five siblings, and these losses have really brought into focus the essential question that life presents to all of us.  Our time here is limited.  What do we choose to do with that precious time?

COVID prevented me from spending the time I would have wished with my brother and sister.  We were barely able to see Glenn a few weeks before his death – he was fighting hard to get to another clinical trial that held out so much promise, but his cancer was too far advanced.  My daughter and I flew to San Francisco and spent two precious days with him – just being together, talking, remembering.  When we left, we still were hoping for more time – but it was not to be.

Lindsay’s situation turned so quickly.  She was diagnosed in November of 2020, had surgery, and the extensive tumor was identified and removed.  She joined a clinical trial that worked so well until suddenly it didn’t.  In early June of 2021 she was hospitalized, and scans finally revealed that the cancer was back in all her internal organs.

Because Hawaii was so strict regarding COVID, when we learned that her time was short, we still had to have COVID tests within 72 hours of travel.  The only place in Nashville that gave the tests approved by the Hawaiian government was finally identified, and we flew on July 3.  Arriving at 2 in the afternoon, Lindsay, by this time in hospice at home, recognized us, welcomed us, but was not able to converse.  We were just together. During the night she became unable to respond, and in the early morning hours I talked to her, sang to her, told her it was ok to go.  She left us at 8:45 on July 4.

Three weeks later we said hello to a beautiful new granddaughter – Cora Lindsay.   Named after my sister, her great-aunt, this child carries hope into the world as a legacy of love.

The thread that binds all these experiences together is that legacy.  I am a fortunate person in that I grew up in a family that was and is bound together by love.  Although we have certainly had our struggles – no families in my experience do not have struggles – we got along (for the most part) and valued kindness.  Whatever I can say about my time on this earth, I can at least say that I gave and received love.  That is no small thing.

May you find ways in your own life to love.  The gift will return to you a thousand-fold.

Happy New Year.

About Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP

About Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP
Communications and relationship specialist, counselor, Imago Relationship Therapist, businesswoman, mother, proud native Nashvillian – in private practice for 35+ years. I have the privilege of helping to mend broken hearts. Contact me at http://www.susanhammondswhite.com.
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The Other Side of the Couch – Are We There Yet?

Here & Now

Are We There YET?

I remember as a child taking car trips with my family – I was often buried in a book, but I know I must have asked that dreaded question many times – and I am equally sure that my younger siblings often did the same. Time passes differently in childhood. Days are endless; summers last forever, and it seems that Christmas will never come.

Time moves differently as we age. The rushing river of Time of which we are never outside becomes ever faster. The meandering pace of childhood picks up speed, and time passes in minutes as we grow older.

And yet that question remains – are we there yet? Have we reached our destination? The “there” changes over time, and yet it is still somewhere out there in the far distance. We are moving toward a horizon that always is just out of reach.

Have you considered what “there” is for you, and whether the possibility exists that you are already “there”? If we as humans are constantly focused on the next thing, that which is to come, we miss so much of what is here now.

If I have learned anything from these months of pandemic isolation, it is that now is what we have. The opportunity to slow down, pay attention, spend time with people I love has never been more present and essential, especially given that these months included the loss of beloved family members (my brother, sister, brother-in-law, and aunt – none to COVID, but gone nonetheless) – and the loss of a feline friend who gave us eighteen years of loving presence. We also received the gift of another precious granddaughter and the adoption of another feline friend.

Friends, “there” is a mirage – a desert oasis calling us away from the actual present. I hope that you can find ways to stay fully present with your life today. It really is a gift, and it is all that we have.

About Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP

About Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP
Communications and relationship specialist, counselor, Imago Relationship Therapist, businesswoman, mother, proud native Nashvillian – in private practice for 30+ years. I have the privilege of helping to mend broken hearts. Contact me at http://www.susanhammondswhite.com.
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The Other Side of the Couch – Pandemic Gift

Backyard Birds

The days are already shortening, and the air is occasionally brisk if one arises early enough.  Yesterday as I worked at my desk I watched two squirrels fighting over the bird seeds that had fallen from the feeders – each determined to be the most successful.  A territorial mockingbird has hovered over the feeders at times as well – the smaller birds seem to just give way to this larger and certainly more vociferous creature – they come back when the mockingbird departs.

Watching the birds and wildlife from my window during the last eighteen months has been both solace and lesson.  It’s a small window really, looking out on a little slice of green, some shrubs and a holly bush.  Farther away across the sidewalk path is an oak tree, and farther on are steps and the landscaping and front doors of neighbors.  Few people actually pass this way – so the wildlife is mostly undisturbed.  We have even seen an occasional deer.

I often pause during the day and watch the unfolding drama of survival as the house finches, cardinals, black-capped chickadees, Carolina wrens, blue jays, robins, occasional bluebirds vie for life sustenance.  The squirrels have become adept at defeating the so-called squirrel-proof feeders and perform acrobatics on a daily basis just to get to an occasional reward.

I don’t remember a time before the pandemic when I took the time to sit and watch the panorama of life go by.  I have always been on the go, a doer, completing tasks, getting things done, being organized.  I noticed this morning that I unconsciously create little patterns that streamline the smallest tasks – bunching together the steps it will take to put things in the recycle; making sure I stop at the trash on the way – I do this without much thought.

This way of being has actually served me well over the years – and yet, and yet – as I watch the birds and take time to just be, I am grateful for this unexpected pandemic gift – the gift of slowing down, of taking time for nothing more than being present.

When this challenging time ends – and I do believe it will either end or become mitigated in some way so that we will be able to once again be out in the world – my hope is to hold onto this gift, this experience, of being more centered in present time.  In the end present time is what we have – the past is gone; the future is not here – so I will delight in my birds and squirrels and in being here in this world, at this moment in time.  May we all be so blessed.

About Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP

About Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP
Communications and relationship specialist, counselor, Imago Relationship Therapist, businesswoman, mother, proud native Nashvillian – in private practice for 30+ years. I have the privilege of helping to mend broken hearts. Contact me at http://www.susanhammondswhite.com.
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The Other Side of the Couch – Don’t Wait

Photo by Todd Trapani on Pexels.com

Twenty years.  Hard to believe it has been twenty years.  The pain has receded; it isn’t daily now as it was in the first several years.  When it returns it is tempered now by sweet memories of better days.  The things we did together, the moments of laughter we shared, the trips we took – these are precious now. 

Twenty years.  Hard to believe it has been twenty years.  The pain has receded, but when it returns it is jagged and still painful and hard to understand.  The pain has not been worked through – it seems instead burned into our memories without healing.

Today, September 11, has two meanings for me. 

First, this day would have been my dad’s 101st birthday.  He was born in 1920, and he died unexpectedly on the 5th of July, 2001.  The first anniversary of his birth occurred on the day that the 9/11 attacks shook our country to the core.  Now, twenty years later, we are remembering as a nation that terrible day.  I, as a single human being, am remembering both the terrorist attack and the loss of a beloved father.

The most important lesson for me out of all this loss is a simple one.  Don’t wait.  Don’t wait to visit loved ones. Don’t wait to say you love them.  Don’t wait to take that trip, to write that story down, to share happy memories.  Our time on this earth is not a given, and we never really know what is ahead.

I didn’t know on July 1, 2001 that the phone call I had with my father would be the last time I heard his voice.  Thousands didn’t know on September 11, 2001 that they were saying good-bye for the last time.

Don’t wait.  It may be the last thing you ever get to say or do.

About Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP
Communications and relationship specialist, counselor, Imago Relationship Therapist, businesswoman, mother, proud native Nashvillian – in private practice for 30+ years. I have the privilege of helping to mend broken hearts. Contact me at http://www.susanhammondswhite.com.
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The Other Side of the Couch – Understanding Self-Delusion

download (1) June seems so far away now – a miraculous moment now fading with the miasma of the Delta variant that is reversing the gains that were made.  We were so close to being able to be a bit safer, a bit freer. How is it possible that so many people in this country are so willing to risk their own lives and the LIVES OF THEIR CHILDREN by choosing to forego vaccination against COVID-19.

I have been more than perplexed by this conundrum.  It makes no rational sense.  However, I recently read an article written by Shankar Vedantam that shed some light on this issue.

Shankar Vedantam is the NPR host of the podcast “Hidden Brain”.  He is interested in the issue of delusional thinking, and his latest book, Useful Delusions:  The Paradox of the Self-Deceiving Brain, presents a fascinating look at events that illustrate the protective power of self-delusion.  Although the buzzwords of the last few years – alternative facts, fake news, QAnon – are not mentioned, these concerns hover in the background of the stories like malevolent fairies just waiting to become visible.

Vedantam cites the story of one Donald Lowry, the founder of the infamous Church of Love that made millions of dollars in the 80s on the backs of lonely men.  Lowry essentially impersonated women who wrote letters to men who subscribed to the program, assuming a variety of personas and including many personalized touches to the letters he sent.  He was eventually caught and prosecuted, but the strange twist to this was that men who were members of his love letter subscription service CAME TO THE COURTHOUSE TO DEFEND HIM.  The men said the letters had saved their lives, stopped addiction, even stopped suicidal behavior.

Vedantam states in an article written for Psychotherapy Networker:

 “Foregoing self-deception isn’t merely a mark of education or enlightenment – it is a sign of privilege…your material, cultural, and social worlds are providing you with other safety nets for your psychological and physical needs.  But should your circumstances change for the worse, were the pillars of your life to buckle and sway, your mind, too, would prove fertile ground for the wildest self-deceptions.” (Psychotherapy Networker, July/August 2021, p. 23)

So, what to do when we see the pillars of rationality challenged by what to many of us can only seem completely without merit.  Vedantam suggests that we are dealing with an evolutionary process in which “old” brain responses are at war with “newer” brain responses.  The two states of the brain have different value systems, and when rationality is seen as the only way of knowing, it is often ignored.

Humans have spent eons using the processes of narrative and storytelling and use of symbols – when we don’t use these processes and rely totally on rationality for truth, we lose sight of much that makes us human.  Joseph Campbell’s monumental work in defining the power of myth in human history is an example, as is Carl Jung’s exploration of the archetypes that live in the collective unconscious of humanity.

So, what does self-deception do for us?  In its best form it protects us when things are just too fragile, too out of control, too frightening.  Self-delusion gives us something to hold onto in a scary world.  It can create a sense of meaning and a sense of community.  We need to think carefully about what self-delusion does, and we need to figure out how to work with it.  How does this self-deception help the believer? What are the consequences of the belief?  Without this insight, it will be hard to create any kind of traction for change.

So, you don’t believe in vaccinations?  Tell me more about that – what are your hesitations?  Oh, your church community is against it? Oh, you feel a strong bond with your fellow church members and wouldn’t want to be different?  Oh, your grandfather was involved in the infamous Tuskegee syphilis research experiment?  That helps me understand.  I still disagree with your choice, but it makes better sense now.  Let me explain to you my experience – would you be willing to listen?

Vedantam closes his article with quite a statement:

“The psychological forces that make it difficult for the members of the Church of Love to see reality accurately fill all our lives.  If we seem less credulous, it’s only because circumstances have not tested us to the same extent. Put another way, those poor, pathetic rubes –but for a few strokes of luck –are us.” Psychotherapy Networker, July/August 2021, p. 25

About Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP
Communications and relationship specialist, counselor, Imago Relationship Therapist, businesswoman, mother, proud native Nashvillian – in private practice for 30+ years. I have the privilege of helping to mend broken hearts. Contact me at http://www.susanhammondswhite.com.
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The Other Side of the Couch – No Words

Clouds and Sorrow

As I begin this piece tonight I find myself faced with putting into words what cannot be, can never be, put into words, because words can only carry us so far into experience.  Tonight I am faced with an attempt to put into words the enormity of the events of these last days, weeks, months, even years that have piled on, each one unique unto itself and yet combining into what is now greater, harder, more challenging than all its parts. And yet I am going to try, because the trying perhaps is in itself a healing process.

It began slowly – he said after we were all together that Christmas of 2018, somewhat offhandedly, oh by the way, I am having a CT scan when I get back to Berkeley– maybe have fatty liver.  Not too much alarm there – then in January the startling news of a tumor in the liver, size of a softball.  Surgery to come.  Removal of two-thirds of his liver in March, 2019.  Reports – it is not primary liver cancer, it is bile-duct cancer.  What?  Very rare.  OF course.  Not well understood.

The fight began.  He, a scientist and geneticist, participated fully in his treatment, sought information, found clinical trials.  A trial he entered gave him, remarkably, almost 21 months of additional, high-quality life.  In spite of COVID he thrived, creating family connections and friend connections across the globe, hosting as he always did, connecting others.

November, 2020 – she called, having experience shortness of breath – went to the ER for removal of a liquid surrounding the lungs.  In the process of this, a CT scan revealed an abdominal mass.  When surgically removed and reviewed – ovarian cancer of a rare and slow-growing type (which meant not responsive to chemo).  In January of 2021 she entered a clinical trial.  She did very well.

Suddenly things began to change.  For him, the clinical trial stopped working.  The cancer invaded the biliary tree in the liver, and all attempts to help bile leave the liver were unavailing.  Although another trial showed promise, the fight to get there was lost.  He left us on May 2, 2021, having survived 21 months post-diagnosis of a type of cancer that rarely if ever allows for more than months of life.

And while all this was happening, she was doing well.  A dancer, a lover of nature, she thrived on this beautiful island.  From January 2021 to June 2021 she was upbeat, feeling good, feeling positive, enjoying life in paradise, her name for her home on Maui.

Suddenly things began to change.  A sensation of pressure in her legs – unclear origin.  Suddenly problems with digestion.  Next discomfort in abdomen – visit to ER revealing fluid gathered in the abdomen, which when drained showed signs of advanced cancer.  Further hospitalization showed the cancer suddenly invading all major organs.

She went home to her beloved partner and entered hospice care on June 30.  We arrived – her sisters, her niece, her brother-in-law – on July 3.  She knew us.  She thanked us for coming.

She left us on July 4, 2021.

A brother.  A sister.  Both younger than I – ages 70 and 67.  Both lost to rare cancers that overwhelmed the best efforts and best care each could have.  There is no one to blame.  Everyone loved them and fought hard for them, but the cancers were relentless in their proliferation.  They both died surrounded by those who loved them.

And now, those who loved them are faced with the daily task of getting up each day and living lives from which their daily presence is gone.  Those who loved them have to pick up the pieces of life, to face the bureaucracy of death, the death certificates, the computer passwords, the search for things like safe deposit box keys, the bank accounts.

Those who loved them have to distribute their earthly possessions, decide what to keep, what to give, what to do with the remains of a life.

And yet most of all, those who loved them are faced with walking through each day with the reality of their absence.  Many things are said about death – but for me the truth is that death is absence and loss of the precious connection between human souls.  I carry them with me in my heart, but I want to hear them, and talk with them, and remember with them, and that will never be again.

So today I mourn the loss of my brother Glenn Hammonds and my sister Lindsay Hammonds – two bright stars who blazed through this world too quickly and left it too soon.  I am only at the beginning of the journey of grief. Today I can only feel the loss.  Perhaps happy memories will help, but not yet.

Friends, hold each other close.  Don’t wait to be together.  These COVID months have stopped us in so many ways – but for COVID I would have spent months with each of them instead of having to wait for vaccination to make it safe to go. I am grateful I was able to be with both of them before they died. Don’t wait.  Life is not a given, and we are given now, but nothing else is sure.

About Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP
Communications and relationship specialist, counselor, Imago Relationship Therapist, businesswoman, mother, proud native Nashvillian – in private practice for 30+ years. I have the privilege of helping to mend broken hearts. Contact me at http://www.susanhammondswhite.com.
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The Other Side of the Couch – The Weight of Grief

Grief Image

I am not unfamiliar with grieving, and yet each time Life requires that I encounter it, I am yet again surprised by its strength.  I know from past encounters that the intensity will pass – there will come a time that I am not aware almost every waking moment of the depth of this loss.  But that time has not yet arrived.

My husband and I both lost beloved brothers – barely two weeks apart – to metastatic cancer.  Both men lived wonderful lives – one a world traveller and humanitarian, the other a brilliant scientist and sharer of knowledge and kindness. Their accomplishments were many, but it is their connections to their families and communities that live on in my memory.

Grief is heavy.  Grief is physical.  I am sleeping but wake up exhausted nonetheless.  Moments of unexpected sadness come at random moments – just now, thinking about Glenn, wishing I could tell him about a new find in our family tree, wishing I could ask him a computer question.  Little things.

I am grateful that I was able to spend time with him in person.  My daughter and I went to California – the vaccine finally giving us the opportunity to go – we would have gone long since but the pandemic stopped us.  We were able to be with him – to say we loved each other – to essentially say goodbye.  We hoped it was not the last time – but it turned out that way.

The words of a poem by Steven Spender have meant a lot to me in these last days – in particular the last several lines. 

I Think Continually of Those Who Were Truly Great

“Near the snow, near the sun, in the highest fields 
See how these names are feted by the waving grass 
And by the streamers of white cloud 
And whispers of wind in the listening sky. 
The names of those who in their lives fought for life 
Who wore at their hearts the fire’s center. 
Born of the sun they traveled a short while towards the sun, 
And left the vivid air signed with their honour.”

My brother touched many lives – and for me, that is the measure of greatness. Love to you, Glenn, and Godspeed. 

About Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP
Communications and relationship specialist, counselor, Imago Relationship Therapist, businesswoman, mother, proud native Nashvillian – in private practice for 30+ years. I have the privilege of helping to mend broken hearts. Contact me at http://www.susanhammondswhite.com.
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The Other Side of the Couch – Unexpected Gifts

By Susan E. Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP



March 18, 2020 – almost a year ago – was the last time I saw clients in my office. We were all in the early days of the pandemic – uncertain, rattled, no idea of what to expect or what was to come. The news became more and more dire with each day. The country shut down. I remember driving through deserted streets – my husband and I drove one day into downtown Nashville, all the way down Broadway, just to see it. Empty. No people. No church. No Symphony. No plays. Worst of all, no contact with my daughter and my granddaughter as we all tried to make sense of what was dangerous and what we could risk.

It all seems like a blur to me now. I have heard the days of the week during COVID called Blursdays – because there is no sense of time, no markers that indicate the familiar rhythms of life. We humans live lives based on expectations and routine. Our bodies require food at regular intervals; we require sleep at certain times. We unconsciously count on these routines and structures. While we certainly continued to eat and sleep, the pandemic stripped away our sense of expectation. Suddenly we could count on nothing. Going to the grocery became an exercise in avoiding mortal peril. Hugging a grandchild could result in becoming infected with a mortal disease. We could enter a hospital and never come out, dying alone with no loved ones near us. Or worse – we could infect the ones we love and watch them die while blaming ourselves.

Today – almost one year later – we are entering an era that MAY BE hopeful. The amazing speed with which effective vaccines have been developed and made available is changing the risk analysis each person has had to make each day. More and more people that I know personally are getting the vaccine, and with each shot in the arm hope increases that we will be able to regain those moments of just being with each other without fear.

At the same time, this year has also brought me face to face with the reality that time does not wait for anyone. Three beloved family members are facing cancer. My beloved feline companion of 18 years left us after a hard-fought battle with kidney failure. My clients continue to struggle with all the things that bring people to therapy – because COVID is not the only thing that is going on in their lives.

How to make sense of all this? I have found two things that make a difference.

The first is gratitude. The second is structure.

This year I have returned to playing the piano because I am home to do it. I am no longer “too busy” to take the time to practice. I have continued to do the work I love online, but I am choosing to work fewer hours and to spend more time with my family and with myself. I have become an amateur bird watcher. My far-flung family has become much more connected through the magic of Zoom. I am cooking much more regularly rather than going out for meals. These are small things – none of them is monumental or earth-shattering – yet taken together, they have made a difference in my life for good.

We know that the practice of gratitude creates better mental health. Structure helps those Blursdays become manageable and even enjoyable. Having a routine and expectations of the self help contain anxiety and mitigate depression. As the days of the pandemic begin to wind down, I hope to take with me these unexpected gifts.

About Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP

Communications and relationship specialist, counselor, Imago Relationship Therapist, businesswoman, mother, proud native Nashvillian – in private practice for 30+ years. I have the privilege of helping to mend broken hearts. Contact me at http://www.susanhammondswhite.com.

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The Other Side of the Couch – Lessons from a Pandemic

The landscape outside my window is bound by the rectangles of the windowpanes on either side and the windowsill below and blinds above.  Just below the sill are holly bushes, still with bright red berries, a little further on is a brick border, then a grassy verge, then a sidewalk that passes in front of an old oak tree.  A large shrub whose name I do not know creates a boundary on the other side.  Farther away steps lead to another level of the condominiums.

Centered in the midst of this view is an iron post with an arm that swings out over the grass; hanging from that arm is a cylindrical bird feeder with four perches.  This object is fought over, jumped on, blown about, surrounded by so many birds – and by the occasional squirrel.

Today, a gray and frosty day, the feeder is surrounded by many house finches, red-headed and breasted or dove-colored depending on their sex.  A Carolina wren approaches, yellow breasted, then a black-capped chickadee.  Suddenly a flash of blue – an Eastern bluebird appears momentarily, then leaves, disappointed with the seeds available.  A mockingbird approaches – too large for this feeder.  I watch a squirrel make a determined assault on the feeder, climbing the pole, reaching out onto the swinging arm, then actually grasping the cylinder with all four feet – but this feeder closes with the weight of this determined rodent – no luck.  He retreats to the scattered seeds and shells beneath the feeder.

As all this unfolds outside, my Maine Coon cat sits inside the window, watching every move of every creature on the outside, tail switching and ears perked.  This is her daily entertainment – a bench is placed at the window level so she can enjoy the vista, even though she cannot reach the creatures she would like to hunt.  Sometimes a squirrel decides to climb onto the outside ledge – to his dismay as the cat strikes, the squirrel jumps, and is suddenly displaced from what appeared safe.

I too spend lots of time at this window.  My own life is also bounded by the rectangle of this window and the computer that sits to the right of it.  The computer allows me the opportunity to connect with family and with friends; it also allows me to continue my life’s work of serving those who are struggling with varieties of life crises and emotional distress.  COVID-19 has led to the compression of life into a computer screen in so many ways.

What is amazing to me is the persistence of life in the face of these limitations.  The birds keep on searching for food, the squirrels keep on trying for more, the cat keeps on doing what cats do, and so do we humans.  In the face of this life-changing year, we keep on.  We continue to live, in spite of the limitations.  For me the year of COVID-19 has been a distillation, a clearing, an intensification of all that matters most.  With so much gone, I have had time to learn what matters.  Not surprisingly, it turns out to be connection with family and friends.  While I miss the busy life of pre-COVID, full of many subscription series, I believe I will not return to that busy life.  COVID has taught me once again that it is necessary to choose between good and good.  I hope that as the year goes on and more safety returns I will remember that important lesson.

About Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP

Communications and relationship specialist, counselor, Imago Relationship Therapist, businesswoman, mother, proud native Nashvillian – in private practice for 30+ years. I have the privilege of helping to mend broken hearts. Contact me at http://www.susanhammondswhite.com.

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