Tag Archives: health

The Other Side of the Couch – Home is Where the Cats Are

 

Thursday night – my husband and I returned home from work (home still being the extended-stay hotel where we have lived since December 14 due to a water heater failure in our new home).  I was checking phone messages when I noticed that one of our cats was nibbling the leaf of a plant that we brought home from church last Sunday.  It was an Easter Lily.

For some reason I thought to myself – I should check on that – I don’t know anything about lilies and cats.

I googled it – and discovered to my horror that Easter lilies are extremely toxic to cats, causing kidney failure and death.

We immediately called our vet.  We were referred to the Pet ASPCA. We learned that the Easter Lily is the most toxic of the lily family to cats; they both needed immediate treatment, involving 48 hours of IV fluids and repeated bloodwork to determine whether kidney values were going up.  If they were, there was little hope of survival.  If the cats had even had pollen from the lily on their coats and ingested it while grooming, the toxicity would still be significant.

Four days later – the cats survived.  We are out a significant amount of money.  Most importantly, we learned a huge lesson – and it is not that Easter Lilies are dangerous for cats.

The lesson I learned is that my animals, my companion animals, are a significant part of what has kept me in balance through the turmoil of the last several months.  Having that consistency of caring, snuggly fur babies has given me comfort and helped me make it through another day.  Needing to be there for them has made it easier to keep going.

I imagine that there are many people out there whose companion animals make life a little less challenging and a lot more satisfying.  When I was afraid that I would lose them – well, let’s just say that I didn’t like what was going on these last several days. Learning that they would be ok has lifted a huge cloud from my world. It has also asked me to examine my definition of “home”.

Robert Frost, in his famous poem, “The Death of the Hired Man”, juxtaposes two definitions of home –

“Home is the place where, when you have to go there,
They have to take you in.”

“I should have called it
Something you somehow haven’t to deserve.”

From The Poetry of Robert Frost: Collected Poems, 1969

These two definitions have always troubled me – one exemplifies what I call an ethic of righteousness, focusing on merit and a kind of grudging acceptance of responsibility for someone who probably doesn’t deserve it but is taken in anyway.  The other focuses on an ethic of mercy or grace, recognizing that sometimes creatures just don’t deserve care, but receive it anyway out of grace or compassion.

What do my cats, or any companion animals, have to do with this story?  The cats, for me, are the carriers of grace.  We have a responsibility to the animals in our care, and they give us without condition the experience of unconditional love and acceptance.  The prospect of losing them brought home to me the significance of their living presence.  I am grateful, and wherever they are, is certainly home to me.

I wonder – what makes “home” for you?  I have found through all this that home has little to do with place, and a lot more to do with the connections with people and companion animals who surround me.  I will be very happy to return to our home – hopefully within the next two weeks.  However, I know that what makes it home has a lot more to do with my husband and my cats than with the place itself.

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 – Losing a Friend

It all happened gradually – so gradually that until it had been going on for months, even years, it was hard to notice.  Taken individually, the changes could be explained.  Lost keys.  Forgotten purse.  Trouble with managing a smart phone.  Struggling with finding a word on occasion.  Each one of those experiences has happened to all of us at some time or another.

However, suddenly, all those things were significant, because more things began to happen, more often.

Someone who had been the most fastidious of people had hair that needed washing.  Someone who had always been full of ideas seemed to have lost her interest in others.  Someone who knew her city well began to be confused about how to get from one place to another.

When the day came when she tried to write a check and didn’t know how to do it – when she sat at lunch with us and forgot there was food on her plate – we knew.

We knew what we hadn’t wanted to know, that we had written off as depression, as Attention Deficit Disorder, as just growing older – we knew that our friend was facing progressive dementia.  Because of her family history, we also knew that this was most likely early-onset Alzheimer’s.

Our friend is fortunate in that she has a caring family who intervened, who helped her make the changes she needed to make.  She will be loved and safe.  Although she will no longer be in this city, she will be with people who love her.

Others who live alone and/or who have no family are not so fortunate.

We are facing an epidemic of Alzheimer’s and other dementias as our population ages.  What I have learned by going through this process with my friend is that it is all too easy to dismiss the visible signs of early dementia because we don’t want to know it is happening.  This denial does a disservice to the person who is suffering, because early detection and early use of the medications available that slow the process down are essential to preserving the functional parts of the brain.

This terrible illness that ultimately eradicates the person’s memory and ability to function can be treated (not cured, but treated).  If you notice any of these signs, talk to your doctor.  Don’t wait; don’t live in denial.  If you see a friend struggling, speak up.  In the end it serves no one to pretend that all is well.

This link discusses some of the early signs of dementia.  It is worth reading. The Alzheimer’s Association is also a wonderful resource and support for caregivers.

https://www.healthline.com/health/dementia/early-warning-signs

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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Road Rage in the Age of Victimhood

Recently I was involved in a road rage incident while on my way home. It all began, as so often happens, with a passive aggressive driver who would speed up every time someone tried to pass him. Eventually he was stuck behind a plumber’s truck and a line of vehicles blew by him of which I was driving the last.

Apparently the driver was so enraged that he followed me into a nearby grocery store. If I had known a nut was chasing me I would have swung by the local police precinct instead. I became aware of him when he tried to block me against a deli case so that he could spew a stream of profanity-laced filth, wrapping up by calling me a fat c—t and a lesbian. (Why is it that inadequate frustrated men always call women lesbians?)

I have lots of friends in the gay community so being called a lesbian isn’t particularly insulting. I’ve also been called many vulgar names while doing collections work and I worked a factory job long ago where I learned to out-cuss a drunken sailor. This guy was a comparative amateur. I couldn’t help myself. I smiled; almost laughed.

That set him off again and he followed me for several minutes through the store spewing comments about my putative lesbian love life.  He didn’t scare me at the time. There were plenty of people around and it was obvious that the tubby little man wasn’t going to get physically violent. When I left the store, he didn’t follow me.

Later I couldn’t help thinking about the guy. In my experience, that kind of rage boils up from months, even years of frustrated ambitions and blighted expectations. In other words, the guy felt like a victim and he needed a target for his victimhood.

We live in an era of victimhood.  There are economic victims of globalization, job automation, and the financial industry meltdown caused by blatant greed of the global elite. There are racial victims, ethnic victims, sexual harassment victims, and religious intolerance victims.  All victims have suffered a grievance based on a valid and real injustice.

But populist politicians who lack any sense of morality and decency are cynically exploiting the sense of victimhood by promising that the perpetrators will pay.  The perpetrators are some hazy “other” group that is racially, ethnically, and religiously different from the victim.  For an alarmingly large number of men, who feel their status has comparatively dropped, the perpetrators are females.

Populist politicians use inflammatory language that encourages their audience to take action against the alleged perpetrators.  We’ve seen it in the rise of hate crimes.  It also might explain why an angry, chubby, balding man followed a woman into a grocery store to spew hate.  That’s when I started feeling scared. Thank God he didn’t have a gun.

 

About Norma Shirk

My company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, helps employers create human resources policies for their employees and employee benefit programs that are appropriate to the employer’s size and budget. The goal is to have structure without bureaucracy.

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The Other Side of the Couch – Best-Laid Plans  

 

I am a planner.  Identifying goals, making decisions about the best way to reach those goals, choosing among a variety of strategies are all easy for me.  I have rarely been a person who struggles with decision-making; in truth, it could be said that I sometimes make decisions too quickly – and reap the consequences!  However, in general I find the process of planning useful and rewarding.  I am comfortable with planning ahead; I like buying season tickets to the symphony or to a theater company.  I have rarely thought something like, “I don’t know whether I will want to do X in three weeks” – instead, if it is on my calendar and I have planned to do it, I do it.

I know that there are others in this world to whom the idea of planning what one is going to do in three weeks, or a week, or even tomorrow, is anathema.  “How am I going to know how I will feel at that point?”  “Let’s play it by ear.” (This last one is designed to make people like myself crazy.)  To these individuals the experience of spontaneity is of high value.  Checking in with one’s self in the moment, asking what is going on for you right now, being willing to listen to the moment-to-moment inner knowing that can guide decision-making, is paramount.

Most of us live somewhere in between these two extremes.  One of the dimensions measured by the Meyers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator (MBTI – www.meyersbriggs.org) is that of comfort with planning vs. comfort with spontaneity (the J-P dimension).  Not surprisingly, I am pretty far toward the J side.  One of the things I appreciate about the MBTI information is that neither of these positions is wrong.  The information about one’s self is helpful in understanding self and in understanding others.

A recent set of experiences, however, has helped me to challenge my own natural preference for planning.

I got a new knee.

Prior to this very significant surgery, I laid plans to manage what I perceived to be all contingencies.  Knowing I would be out of work for a time, I arranged coverage for clients who would need it.  I borrowed or bought equipment that I would need for recovery.  I estimated the time I would be out of the office and planed with my clients accordingly.  Everything was in order.

However – best-laid plans.

This phrase, well-known for its reference to the poem, “To a Mouse” by Robert Burns, essentially says that even the best-laid plans can be overturned by external and unexpected events.  The mouse’s nest was torn apart by an unexpected plow, and my plans for an easy and uneventful recovery were challenged by the realities of a very hard operation and some unexpected complications that have extended the timeline well beyond what I had hoped.

So – I am NOT yet back at work; I am NOT yet driving; I am NOT yet fully recovered after one month (which was my plan, even though I was told that the acute recovery period is generally six to eight weeks with a right knee replacement).  MY plan was to beat the odds, be the superstar patient who was off pain medication in two weeks, driving in three, and back to full functioning in four.

Well, my friends, today is four weeks, and I am not doing any of those things. While I am certainly on the road to recovery, the time line is longer, perhaps, even than the average recovery would be.

Today, therefore, I am living into the other side of the MBTI dimension – the side that focuses on present moment.  I am asking myself questions like – “What do you need right this minute?”  “What would help right now?”  While I still must plan such things as rides to Physical Therapy, I am much more in the moment than I am used to being.  I am finding it strange, but strangely comforting as well.

Perhaps I will grow through this experience into being a more balanced person, who both plans, and allows herself to know that sometimes plans don’t work out, and that’s ok.

Where do you fall on this continuum?

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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You Can Breathe A Sigh of Relief…

You know how sometimes you just feel like sighing?  Nothing is really wrong. But you find yourself worrying that something may be wrong.  You’re not facing any “emotional trauma” that you know of.  It just happens; perhaps several times in a row, maybe really big sighs. Well, according to an article on the Science Alert website, a team of researchers believe they have found that the sigh is “actually a crucial reflex that keeps our lungs healthy,” and the reflex appears to be controlled by neurons that manufacture and release one of two neuropeptides.

Researchers, Mark Krasnow, from Stanford University School of Medicine and Jack Feldman from the University of California, Los Angeles, and their team found “two tiny clusters of neurons in the brain stem that automatically turn normal breaths into sighs when our lungs need some extra help – and they do this roughly every 5 minutes (or 12 times an hour), regardless of whether or not you’re thinking about something depressing.”

It’s as though we have different buttons to turn on different types of breath.  For example, one may control regular breaths and one may control another, like a sigh, a yawn, or a cough, etc.

“A sigh is a deep breath, but not a voluntary deep breath.  It starts out as a normal breath, but before you exhale, you take a second breath on top of it,” Feldman explained.  “When alveoli collapse, they compromise the ability of the lung to exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide.  The only way to pop them open again is to sigh, which brings in twice the volume of a normal breath.  If you don’t sigh every 5 minutes of so, the alveoli will slowly collapse, causing lung failure.”

The research team studied the process in lab mice and, of course, more research will be required to see if the same “pathway” occurs in humans, but they feel “the similarities in the mouse and human systems” are leading them in the right direction.  For people who suffer conditions that stop them from breathing deeply or for those who sigh so often that it becomes debilitating, the scientists feel it may be possible to to offer relief once they work out how the process is regulated.

As for emotional sighing, there is still the question of whether it works in the same way.

“There is certainly a component of sighing that relates to an emotional state. When you are stressed, for example, you sigh more,” Feldman said. “It may be that neurons in the brain areas that process emotion are triggering the release of the sigh neuropeptides — but we don’t know that.”

So, don’t fear the sigh – Sigh on!  It’s good for you!

About Jan Schim

Jan is a singer, a songwriter, a licensed body worker specializing in CranioSacral Therapy, and a teacher. She is an advocate for the ethical treatment of ALL animals and a volunteer with several animal advocacy organizations. She is also a staunch believer in the need to promote environmental responsibility.

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I Wanna Live Forever!

Gilgamesh and his best friend Enkidu had many adventures together. Then Enkidu died. Gilgamesh was inconsolable with grief and loneliness. But he was also afraid of his own death. So he wandered endlessly in search of the secret to never dying.

Gilgamesh’s story is told in the Epic of Gilgamesh, written between 2150 – 1400 BCE.  It was the first major piece of literature in the western world, predating even Homer’s stories about the destruction of Troy.  Gilgamesh was a mythical king of Uruk, a Sumerian city-state in what is now Iraq.

His story may have been written over 4000 years ago but Gilgamesh was not so different from us today.  We are still looking for the magical elixir of life.  Gilgamesh hoped the gods would tell him the secret to immortality but they never did.

Today, our “gods” are the allegedly scientific studies on the benefits of exercise and food.  I say alleged because the studies usually provide conflicting advice and are often sponsored by industries that have a stake in the outcome.  Consider how the definition of “healthy” food changes constantly.

Years ago a study told us not to eat eggs because they have cholesterol which is bad for us. Then a study told us that eggs are loaded with protein; so they are good for us. The poultry industry celebrated.  Another study told us sugar is bad for us. Then a study arrived claiming that lab rats died from consuming saccharine and other sugar substitutes.  Suddenly sugar is good for us again. Sugar beet farmers and sugarcane refineries rejoice.

Along with diet, we’re told to exercise regularly. What does “regularly” mean? One study tells us to exercise until our hearts are thumping and we’re soaked in sweat. The next study tells us that we can achieve excellent health and long life from as little as fifteen minutes of daily exercise.   Recently, a BBC news story cited a new study which claims that prolonged sitting will kill us no matter how much we exercise.

What no one ever admits is that if we live forever, we’ll outlive all our friends. Then we’ll be as lonely as Gilgamesh was after Enkidu died.  Instead of agonizing over living forever, I’ll support a scientific study that says we should enjoy life with our friends, our favorite foods and exercise when we feel like it.

About Norma Shirk

My company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, helps employers create human resources policies for their employees and employee benefit programs that are appropriate to the employer’s size and budget. The goal is to have structure without bureaucracy.

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The Other Side of the Couch – It Just Happened    

shoulder-photo

Today I am almost one month post rotator cuff surgery.  I would never have realized how very frequent this surgery is until I have had to deal with it.  So many friends, co-workers, and other acquaintances, on learning what I am experiencing, are happy to describe their own journeys with this all too frequent injury.

I can’t imagine what it must have been like for people in the many years prior to the availability of this kind of surgical repair.  Living with the pain and with the limitations forced by the inability to raise one’s arm above a certain level was extremely challenging.  Knowing that it could be repaired was hopeful.  Living without that hope could only be described as devastating.

Most people assume that this kind of injury is the result of a fall or of some kind of accident.  In fact I learned from my surgeon that the great majority of rotator cuff injuries “just happen.”  Perhaps it is because we are living longer or perhaps because we are compromising the shoulder joint by repetitive motion that wears out the muscle, or perhaps it is because we are neglecting to strengthen the small muscles that surround the shoulder and keep it functioning as it should.  Many of these injuries simply occur with no outside compromise.

My own case could be a combination of all of these factors.  I know that I tended to put my heavy purse, my satchel of papers, and anything else that I happened to need to use in a day in the passenger car seat; I would then drag these objects across the seat as I exited the car, using my arm and shoulder in a repetitive motion process many times daily.  These experiences add up!

So – I will say it “just happened” when asked – but what I really should be saying is that some degree of lack of self-care contributed to a difficult surgery.  I am on the other side of it now, and I am improving every day.  I hope to learn from the experience, and to protect my OTHER shoulder from something that “just happens.”

Is there anything in your life that is “just happening?”  Take a look – maybe you could influence it for good by making small changes.

About Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP:

Susan is a communications and relationship specialist, counselor, Imago Relationship Therapist, businesswoman, mother, and proud native Nashvillian. She has been in private practice for over 30 years. As she says, “I have the privilege of helping to mend broken hearts.”  Contact Susan at http://www.susanhammondswhite.com

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The Other Side of the Couch – Are You Sleeping?

I slept.

For the past five nights I have slept through the night (with minor interruptions which did not lead to staying awake, tossing and turning, or a complete inability to go back to sleep at all).  I wake up refreshed.  I have energy during the day and don’t find myself wanting to nod off around 2 in the afternoon.  The need for a nap is gone.

This experience – the experience of normal sleep – is elusive for millions of people in this country, and indeed around the world.  Somehow the idea that sleep is a luxury has taken hold, and some people even pride themselves on how little sleep they “need”.  Many young people routinely pull “all-nighters” to study for exams, and social engagements for many millennials often don’t even begin until 10.  Many people believe that they can “catch up” on lost sleep by sleeping in on the weekend.

However, the real impact of lost sleep is a cumulative disaster.  Shift workers who are required to work at night, or worse, to change their shifts routinely, experience health-related illnesses at a significantly higher rate than the rest of the population.  Sleep experts recognize the essential process that sleep provides, which is a kind of sweeping of the brain, for lack of a better explanation.  When we sleep, our brains automatically use that time to clear the brain at a cellular level of elements that are unhealthy at a cellular level.  This has implications for many brain-related issues, and in fact may be significant in the problems with aging populations with dementia.  If sleep mechanisms stop working, it may be that toxins build up, causing damage that is unseen and invisible until a harmful process is far along.

Some of the basics of taking care of sleep involve steps that many people in our wired world may find challenging.  They include:

  1. Regular time to go to bed and wake up, even on the weekends
  2. Low or no light in the bedroom, and twilight light leading up to bedtime (an hour before)
  3. NO SCREENS an hour before bed, and no screens in the bedroom (sorry, TV addicts) – electronic devices emit a kind of light-wave that interferes with sleep processing
  4. No strenuous exercise at least two hours before bed

These basic steps make taking care of this basic need much more manageable.

Why am I excited about sleeping?  Because I haven’t!  It’s been a couple of months since I had surgery that made it difficult to breathe – the surgery was actually meant to help me breathe, but the recovery complicated that process.  These last few nights have shown me that the surgery did help, that I am close to fully recovered, and that sleep is going to be a lot easier!

Take it from me – sleep is a wonderful process that needs to be respected and preserved.  Do your level best to make it work as naturally as possible – your health depends on it.

About Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP:

Susan is a communications and relationship specialist, counselor, Imago Relationship Therapist, businesswoman, mother, and proud native Nashvillian. She has been in private practice for over 30 years. As she says, “I have the privilege of helping to mend broken hearts.”  Contact Susan at http://www.susanhammondswhite.com

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The Other Side of the Couch – Speaking Tech

Locked Computer

Are you a digital native or an immigrant to the land of technology?

If you were born after 1987, you are most likely a digital native. You have grown up with technology and have little resistance to it.  You do it naturally, without a lot of thought.  If you are a digital immigrant, many things about technology can be overwhelming.  As the millennials grow up and move into the job market, more and more experiences require computer savvy.  If you want to apply for a job, you will most likely have to do so online.  If you want to find a phone number, forget about finding a phone book.  Need to apply for Medicare or social security?  Most help is found online.  Many of the day-to-day activities that used to be done through mail or through written application processes are not even available in these forms.

How do all of these changes affect professional counselors and other mental health professionals?

In a word, profoundly!  Technological familiarity is now often required to submit insurance forms, to sign up for conferences, to maintain awareness of changes in the field.  Journals which once were delivered through the mail now are delivered through digital means.   Practitioners have a wide variety of information sources available, but also can be overwhelmed with the sheer volume of information flooding in-boxes.

The most significant changes that are affecting the mental health field are those related to issues of confidentiality and informed consent.  Confidentiality is the bedrock foundation on which the counseling relationship rests.  Anything that threatens confidentiality is a threat to both the client and the counselor.  Confidentiality requires very careful attention to any possibility of breach.  However, many individuals, both counselors and clients, are very used to using emails and texting in order to quickly and efficiently reach others.

How do professional counselors handle these issues?  The most important method is through informed consent – that is, through explaining the issues that relate to the use of emails/texting and social media to clients as soon as a counseling relationship is begun.  Professional counselors are urged through their ethical standards to maintain a social media and technology policy and to explain it to clients.  Counselors are also encouraged to use encrypted programs in sending and receiving emails or texts, if they actually agree to do so (some counselors do not).

Telehealth or telemedicine is another emerging area of concern.  Suppose I am a counselor in Tennessee and a client in another state finds my website (another necessity for current practice) and wants to work with me through a video platform.  First, unless I am licensed in the state where the client is, I cannot work with the client.  Second, if I am licensed in that state, I must use a video platform that is HIPAA-compliant (Skype is not).  Third, I must be knowledgeable concerning the resources in that client’s area in case of emergency.  Fourth, I must have enough ability to work with technology to be able to access the client through another means if for some reason the video bridge fails at a crucial moment.

Technology is both an incredible blessing and a huge burden.  My immigrant ability to speak tech is improving, but I will never be as adept at it as are millennials.  Nonetheless, I will keep trying, because it is where the world is going.

What are your stories about technology?  How do you manage the digital world?  I would love to hear about it.

About Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP:

Susan is a communications and relationship specialist, counselor, Imago Relationship Therapist, businesswoman, mother, and proud native Nashvillian. She has been in private practice for over 30 years. As she says, “I have the privilege of helping to mend broken hearts.”  Contact Susan at http://www.susanhammondswhite.com

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The Other Side of the Couch –Alone?

AloneSo many people are afraid of being alone.  Over and over I hear in my office from clients – I can’t  leave; I would be alone,  or I can’t leave him or her, they would be alone – as though being alone is the worst thing that could ever happen to a human being, as though being alone is a penance, a punishment, a horror.

I know that aloneness is used as punishment.  Maximum security, solitary for years on end, drives humans crazy, literally.  Some cultures use shunning to punish, and people actually die from it.  And yet I have always wondered about that experience – a belief leading to that ending.

Being alone is one of the joys of my life.  Perhaps because I choose it, decide it when I want to do so – perhaps because I spend the majority of my days in deep places with others.  Being alone with no other human energy pulling on me is like a drink of clear, pure water, a resting place, a respite.  I return to relationship refreshed.

And yet, when I am alone, am I alone?  I am with me, and I am in relationship with all that is, and in those moments of “alone” I am yet more aware and connected to all – to the singing teakettle, the doors that call and close, the aliveness of memory, the presence of loved ones called to mind and into communion.

Perhaps “alone” is nothing more than a belief.  I am alone means I am here, in this amazing and infinite world of all possibilities.  I am always home.

What is your experience of being alone?  Do you dread it, seek it out, run from it?  How is alone different from lonely?  I invite you to spend a little time with experiencing your own relationship to the idea of being alone – you might find there is more to it than you have given yourself time to know.

About Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP:

Susan is a communications and relationship specialist, counselor, Imago Relationship Therapist, businesswoman, mother, and proud native Nashvillian. She has been in private practice for over 30 years. As she says, “I have the privilege of helping to mend broken hearts.”  Contact Susan at http://www.susanhammondswhite.com

Like what you’ve read? Feel free to share, but please… Give HerSavvy credit. Thanks!

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