Tag Archives: life changes

Big Mike

        

He stood 6’3” with the build of a football defensive lineman.  When his blond hair thinned, he shaved his head but kept his untrimmed beard. He looked scary as heck.

When he worked as a bouncer and the college boys were rowdy, his boss would say, “Hey, Big Mike, go stand over there and just stare at them”.   Mike would walk over to the table without a smile, cross his arms and stare. Within minutes the college boys were running for the door to get away from him.

But Big Mike wasn’t scary to little kids. Every child, and most adults, stood in line for his bear hugs and to hear his deep laugh. He taught his nieces to roar like a dinosaur. They put bows in his beard and pasted one on top of his bald head.

Nothing was too wacky or weird to try at least once. At the Honda dealership where he worked, he flew toy helicopters around the shop often trailing a small banner with an obscene message.

At his friend’s wedding, he told the bride’s family that he and the groom were drug dealers. When his friend’s son was born with blond hair and blue eyes, Mike responded, “Hey, I was just there to fix the dryer”.  (The baby’s parents have dark hair and eyes. )

His voicemail greeting growled “Hi, this is Big Mike. I like girls, so if you’re a guy make it quick”.  His Facebook page said “Hi, I’m Big Mike. If you want to know more, get to know me in person”.  So many people got to know him.

The children at summer camp will never forget the big guy who was always willing to listen to their troubles and dreams.  The Special Olympics athletes he cheered to victory presented his family with a medal engraved with their names to honor Big Mike.   He was a PUNK (Professional Uncle No Kids).

Big Mike was a talented artist. He sketched with pencil and pen. He built rocking chairs shaped like animals for children.  He customized his shoes with glittery designs, like the pair he wore at the bowling alley with a battery-powered blinking blue light. He also played several musical instruments and happily taught others to play.

It’s impossible to explain who he was or how much he influenced others in a few words. He certainly wasn’t perfect because no human is. But I have never laughed so much at a funeral as when I listened to his friends and family tell stories about him.  He was taken from us too soon. But his legacy will live on through the stories.

In loving memory of my nephew, Michael Alan “Big Mike” Shirk (1984 – 2018), gone but never forgotten.

 

About Norma Shirk

My company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, helps employers (with up to 50 employees) to create human resources policies and employee benefit programs that are appropriate to the employer’s size and budget. The goal is to help small companies grow by creating the necessary back office administrative structure while avoiding the dead weight of a bureaucracy.  To read my musings on the wacky world of human resources, see the HR Compliance Jungle (www.hrcompliancejungle.com) which alternates on Wednesday mornings with my new history blog, History By Norma, (available at http://www.normashirk.com). To read my musings on a variety of topics, see my posts on Her Savvy (www.hersavvy.com).

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The Other Side of the Couch – Seventeen Years

Seventeen years ago – two events took place.  The world knows all about one of those events.  The attack on the United States that began that morning culminated in the deaths of thousands, the desolation of the hearts of millions, and the eruption into world consciousness of religious fanaticism that was to go on to claim many more lives across these years.

The other event that took place that day was not marked by the world in any unusual fashion.  It passed quietly, was not newsworthy.  To me, however, this event paralleled the catastrophic loss of loved ones and of some sense of security in the world.

September 11, 2001 would have been my beloved father’s 81st birthday.

My dad, Dr. Glenn Hammonds, succumbed to a sudden illness on July 5, 2001.  He was taken ill, hospitalized, and died after two extensive surgeries that could not save his life.  A little more than two months later, the day of his birth, already a grief-filled marker, was forever joined with the national tragedy of the attack on our country.

My dad was a remarkable man – a young surgeon who served in WWII, a leader in his field, but most of all a beloved physician who is remembered to this day by patients he treated for his kind demeanor and listening ear.  I still encounter strangers who, on hearing my name, ask me if I am related to Dr. Hammonds and tell me stories of his care.

However, I am aware that the extraordinary amount of time and care that he gave to his patients sometimes made it difficult for him to be as available to his family as we wanted or as he wished.  This is a dilemma for all those who serve in care-giving roles.  As a child one knows that Daddy is doing something important, but one also knows that Daddy isn’t home and that when he is he is very tired.

I was blessed to have this caring, compassionate, intelligent man as a father.  I wish that I had had longer with him in his later years.  I wish that we had been able to talk about the role of being a care-giver, the toll it can take on personal relationships, and the great need for a focus on self-care.  On days like today, when I remember my dad with both sorrow and pride, I strengthen my own daily resolve to delight in this moment, to be grateful for the family, friends, and health that I enjoy.  So thank you, Dad, for the ongoing lessons and love that are forever a part of me – even the lessons that you probably didn’t know you were teaching.

Sometimes unintended lessons can be the most profound of all.  Do you have lessons that you didn’t know you were learning?  They could be ways in which you want to behave in a different way than that which you saw in your childhood home.  They could be experiences that cause you to wonder about your own choices?  Take a look – you may be surprised at what you find.

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 – Scarcity or Abundance: You Choose

I ran across an article about three myths that keep us trapped in a belief system that is negative in so many ways.  Lynne Twist, author of The Soul of Money, suggests that these myths are traps that stand between us and our own sense of abundance and security.

When you were a child, did you and your siblings ever argue over who was going to get the biggest piece of cake or the largest slice of watermelon?  I know we did – even though I do not remember a single time in my life, ever, when there was not enough cake or watermelon to go around.  Children live with a highly developed sense of fairness – in our Western culture we grow up being aware of who has how much of something.  We are unconsciously taught to believe that there may not be enough, and that having more is better.  In many instances we are also taught that there is nothing we can do to change any of that – in the case of a cake or a watermelon, there is indeed not an endless supply, but we tend to transfer those childhood feelings about scarcity and want to bigger-picture concepts like love.  Many adults fear that there is not enough love to go around, not realizing that the capacity of the heart to love is enlarged by the process of giving love.  Love does not thrive in a scarcity economy.

The three myths that we have been taught to believe are:

1. There’s not enough to go around.   2.  More is better.   3.  That’s just the way it is.

Believing that there is not enough causes us to live in fear. Believing that more is better leaves us perpetually unsatisfied. Believing that we have no way to change anything creates a feeling of helplessness and hopelessness that leads us to abandon our own agency, our own initiative, our own ability to believe in and to hope for change.

This last belief, the belief that we can’t do anything to create change, is to me the most pernicious, and it is the one that is pervasive at this time as we confront a world that is essentially living in fear.  On a physical and organic level, fear causes a kind of tunnel-vision.  Focus narrows to the immediate and turns to survival.  Protectionism increases.

Friends, we have it within ourselves to choose differently – to focus on the good, the beautiful, the joyful; to remember the joys in our lives and to be grateful for the abundance that we do have.  Research has shown us that focusing on that for which we are grateful in an intentional and daily way results in positive changes in behavior.

Amy Morin published an article in Forbes Magazine in 2014 that listed seven different ways that gratitude improves our lives.  The link is below:

https://www.forbes.com/sites/amymorin/2014/11/23/7-scientifically-proven-benefits-of-gratitude-that-will-motivate-you-to-give-thanks-year-round 

Gratitude supports physical well-being, increases empathy and decreases aggression, improves psychological health, and improves sleep, among other benefits. Gratitude is free;  there is an endless supply of it; it is there for the taking!

Let’s counter the myths that trap us by choosing gratitude – you will be glad you did.

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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Parenting Our Parents (Cont’d)

So… In the first segment of Parenting Our Parents back in January, I shared my mom’s often belligerent attitude toward me and her most assuredly depressing, nay, morbid feelings toward life itself. I wrote that we had “introduced her to the idea of a senior residence that seems absolutely fabulous. She now goes to a class there every Wednesday and admits (albeit reluctantly) that she enjoys it. Moving there is under consideration, but she’s ‘not ready for that yet.’” Well, I have an update and it is really good news!

Since April 15th, mom has been residing in that absolutely fabulous senior residence and, let me tell you, she is truly a different person. I mean, she has done a complete 180. I think I convinced her to try it by talking about having “kids her own age to play with.” I also had to promise that if she really didn’t like it, she could come home. My sister, Joan, is still living in the condo, of course, so it was easy to assure mom that the house would be there as she left it should she want to return. Thankfully, she trusted me enough to believe me.

So far, mom has not once mentioned going “home.” Nor has she talked about killing herself. Oh, sure, she says she’s tired and would still like to go to sleep and, well, you know, but she has made friends, goes to meals regularly, and even has a favorite pianist who visits the residence every couple of weeks. She plays bingo which “passes the time” (She’d rather play Poker, but hasn’t managed to get a game up yet. She’s working on it, though.), and roams the grounds in her power chair regularly. She’s getting a lot more fresh air because she can easily get in and out of the building herself and is eating better. The food isn’t always great, but they make “delicious soup” most of the time. If things aren’t up to par, you can bet she lets them know.

An intuitive article from the New England Geriatrics website, How Socialization Can Benefit the Elderly by Karen Mozzer, describes how important socialization is for the elderly.

No matter what age a person is, socialization is important and gives a person a sense of belonging and acceptance. The elderly are no different; they need contact with other people just as much as a child, teenager, young adult, and adults of all ages. People need socialization to thrive and enjoy fulfilling lives.

Socialization becomes more important as we get older, especially once we reach our senior years. A recent research study performed by Harvard University showed that elderly individuals, who had active social lives, were happier, healthier and more likely to live longer, than elderly people who did not have an active social life. Loneliness can deter an elderly person’s life, socializing can enrich it.

I, we, believe wholeheartedly that this is making the difference for mom. It has been totally life-changing for her. I joke that she’ll never admit it in my lifetime, but we think she is actually happy, much of the time anyway. Stay tuned.

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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The Other Side of the Couch – Loafing

 

A friend recently gave me some words of wisdom that I found shocking.

She said, “You’ve been through a lot over the last 18 months – now it’s time to focus on relaxing and self-care and fun.”This perception on her part was shocking in several ways – but most importantly, it invited me think about what HAS been going on in my life.

In the last eighteen months I have had three major surgeries, the trip of a lifetime, selling of a childhood home and subsequent downsizing process, purchase of a new home, loss of my best friend to early-onset Alzheimer’s, a home disaster in our new condo that resulted in almost five months in an extended-stay hotel, my daughter’s first pregnancy, exposure of our cats to the lethal effects of eating an Easter lily (they are fine), and the birth of a granddaughter.

WOW. Or better said, YIKES! Talk about a roller coaster!  No wonder my friend had this perception.

Living life is like being in a river.  The current is constantly flowing, and we are in that current.  It is ongoing, ever-changing, sometimes stormy, sometimes swift and challenging, sometimes slow and lazy, but never the same.  Taking the time to climb out onto the bank to observe one’s self in that current can be challenging – and sometimes it takes another person looking in to help us see what has been going on.

My friend’s comment did this for me – and helped me realize something about my own process.  I don’t take the time to step back, to rest, to recharge.  These last months have really been about “good soldiering”.  One step in front of the other, don’t look back, don’t look ahead, just slog on, keep your head down, that’s the best you can do.

It’s not a process that is filled with rest, renewal, or any kind of joy.  It is called survival.

Many of us get stuck in this place of survival and adapt to it – it becomes the only way we know how to approach living.  To break that mold takes intention and some degree of support.  It takes claiming time for yourself to do things that perhaps you don’t normally do – whatever it is that you experience as relaxing and fun and outside the regular track of your life.

What am I doing?  I am puttering around with plants for my little patio.  I am taking a trip to hear music over Memorial Day.  I am going to my college reunion in June.  I am planning a trip to Charleston to see my other grandchild.  I am planning a trip to Florida to see dear friends.  On a daily basis I am asking myself this question:  How would you like to loaf today?

Answering that question may be the most important and the most challenging of all – because I don’t know much about loafing around (that means being unproductive – heaven forbid!).  Redefining loafing as resting, taking it easy, changing your pace, slowing down – these are new ideas for me.

When do you “loaf”?  Are you always on the move, always doing, always restless?  If so, you might need a dose of loafing to bring some balance into your life.  I know I 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 – 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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The Other Side of the Couch – The Gift of Waiting

Another month has passed – and we are still not back in our home after the twin disasters of mold in a wall (due to failure of roof flashings) and damaged hardwood floors (due to a water heater failure). Living in a hotel and eating most meals out is not glamorous in any way – and it is just not home.

What is taking so long? I wish I knew. In part it is due to timing (over the holidays), the weather (Arctic air mass that stopped work of any kind), Nashville’s booming construction industry (which makes finding contractors for relatively small jobs a challenge). However, in large part it is due to several entities having to sign off on what needs to be done and how much it will cost. These include the homeowner’s insurance agent and the adjuster, the moisture mitigation company, the contractors and their schedules, and the HOA (Homeowners Association). Throw into that mix the need for movers and packers (all the furniture has to come off of the damaged floors) – a lot of cooks are stirring this broth!

We wait with what patience we can muster. I am very clear that fretting and worrying will do nothing other than make my life harder and will do nothing to change the outcome of this process. I am trying to cultivate the practice of living in the present.

As I experience this time of waiting, I am aware of other times of waiting. I remember my father saying things like, “I can’t wait until she is old enough to…” – whatever the next milestone might have been. He had a hard time enjoying what was due to his anticipation of what would be. I remember waiting to graduate from high school, waiting to start a career, waiting to find a romantic partner, waiting for a child to be born. I am not sure that I waited with patience, nor am I sure that I ever had the wisdom to cultivate the practice of living in the present.

My guess is that I have missed a lot. This time of waiting has lessons that I need to learn. So I look around and am grateful for time spent with my daughter, who is awaiting her first child. I am grateful for the warmth of a space heater next to my feet as another round of Arctic air descends on Nashville. I am grateful for a new down coat that arrived just in time for the coldest days of winter. I am grateful that I am alive, here in this world, with eyes to see and ears to hear and a mind that works.

In the grand scheme of things problems with water heaters and walls are small compared to the grace of being alive in a world full of beauty and brokenness.
Perhaps you have worries that are fretting you. Perhaps you are spending too much time in the land of the future (the land of What If) or the past (the land of If Only) and not enough time in the land of Right Now. Let yourself enjoy it if possible or mourn it if necessary – but above all, be in it. It is all we really have.

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.

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

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The Other Side of the Couch – Waiting

 

The house seems so strange now.  Furniture is shunted into other areas – the rugs folded or removed.  A sheen of dust covers the shining surface of the dining room table, and the living room couch stands in solitary splendor against the wall where the sunrise picture used to be.  The floor, from which the buckled hardwood has been pried, is a minefield of unexpected nails waiting to slice unwary toes, even toes protected by shoes.

In the kitchen a section of hardwood remains isolated in the corner close to the adjoining wall of the condo next door.  Black discoloration stains it at the corner closest to the outside wall.  We think it is mold.  The adjuster found that the flashings on the roof were not properly attached, and water has been splashing into the wall for some time.  We are not sure for how long, but it is long enough for whiffs of mold to be apparent at times in the house.

This is going to be a long process.

We have been out of the house for twenty-two days.  We expect to be out for another month.  All this happened over the Christmas/New Year holiday season – so while adjusters have adjusted, and driers have kept the water damage from the water heater failure from extending to other areas of the house, no decisions have been made about what to do and when to do it.  We don’t expect that decision to be made until after the New Year holiday is over.

The familiar processes of living are truncated now.  Cooking?  Meal planning?  With one skillet and a hot plate, there is not much possibility.  Entertaining?  Tiny hotel suites don’t give much space for traditional New Year’s parties.  We had a little Christmas tree, because I couldn’t bear to have NOTHING that denoted the Christmas season – so our little artificial kitchen tree, decorated with angels and a tiny knitted creche, took the place of the tree that we had decorated so hopefully just after Thanksgiving.  That tree, deprived of all its familiar decorations, stood in the midst of the drying fans for days and turned into a brown shell much more rapidly than it should have.

We are waiting.

Waiting is not an easy process.  This kind of waiting increases feelings of helplessness and powerlessness.  Those experiences are not pleasant, and they can lead to ill-considered actions.  Impatient people sometimes don’t treat others well.  However, so far we have managed to remain civilized.  Rather than screaming at adjusters we have remained calm and collected. We laugh at the inconveniences and focus on gratitude rather than resentment.  Sometimes things happen that are just outside our control, and railing at the situation does no good.  We wait for good things to happen; we wait for news; we anticipate future events – the ability to wait and to reach into a possible future is both a blessing and a burden for human beings.  Seeing all those cats in the picture, who are indeed waiting for a possible future that includes eating fish, made me laugh about our long-term anticipations.  Living in the moment really is the best we can do.

I think of others who have lost more than a momentary loss of convenience. The situations of refugees, whose whole lives have been destroyed with no hope of return reminds me today of the grace that we are given.  We have a home to which we will return.  Surely we can endure a season of waiting.

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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Out With the Old, In With the New, Or…

… Another one bites the dust. Just my thoughts.

And here we are, looking toward a new year, a new beginning. For many, it really is like starting all over. It’s a time of “New Year’s resolutions.” We make promises to ourselves that we will make changes. We’ll do things differently.

I was in Trader Joe’s the other day and, of course, it was quite busy. Trader Joe’s is ALWAYS quite busy. Everyone loves Trader Joe’s. In conversation with my cashier, however, he remarked, “Not as busy as it’s going to be.” “Because of getting ready for New Year’s parties?” I asked. “No,” he replied, “Next Tuesday, the second.” “Huh?” I responded intelligently. He explained that it would be especially busy due to all the people’s resolutions to take better care of themselves, to eat better. “They’ll all be in here,” he said, and, “Of course it won’t last. They never do.”

Ah. This is a realization I came to a long time ago. I look forward to each New Year. Like most, I never can quite believe it has arrived once it does. (“Can you believe it’s almost —-?” “Where did the year go?” “I swear they just go by faster and faster.”) And I wonder, truly do wonder how I’ve made it through yet another year, but I don’t make New Year’s resolutions. I make resolutions every day. Much more practical, don’t you think?

So, here it is. It’s going to be the year 2018 and I find this amazing. The sheer magnitude of the number leaves me in awe. Heck, I was totally fascinated when I received a new credit card a few years ago that would expire in 2016. Y2K – eons ago. 1984 – Ancient history. 1968 – Earth Day. For some reason, when I was younger, I didn’t think I would make it nearly this far. I can’t say why. It was just a feeling. Yet, here I am. I must celebrate for my friends who didn’t make it.

I can see already that this year is going to be a transitional one for me. The prospect of two new jobs on my horizon is exciting. I’ve done so many different things in my life. I think my resume looks like a diner’s menu, a very ambitious menu. I like it that way. I love trying and learning new things, and, hey, I got both jobs I applied for. Musically, I’m stepping out of my comfort zone. I’ll be auditioning for America’s Got Talent. Let you know how it goes.

Happy New Year everybody. Rock on!

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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The Other Side of the Couch – Unexpected  

I was looking forward to a quiet evening of self-care – after a weekend of lots of fun but tiring activities, I was home alone; the animals were taken care of; the house was warm and cozy, and I was ready to relax.  We had finished decorating for Christmas; most of my shopping was done.  My brother called, and I was peacefully talking to him when I heard a sudden roaring sound from somewhere in the house.

Racing toward the sound, I discovered that the water heater, located in the pantry area between the kitchen and the living/dining room, had malfunctioned. Water was pouring from the top of it, near the wall.  It was RAINING, scalding hot water raining into the house.

What did I do?  I panicked.  I had no idea where the cutoff valve for the water heater was; I could not get to the master cutoff for the house and couldn’t have turned it off if I had gotten to it.  I ran for all the towels and blankets in the house in an effort to block the water now running everywhere.  I called my husband (whose phone was not on), texted him, called my brother-in-law but was apparently so upset that he thought it was an accidental call for my husband, not for him.  I called the plumbing company.  I called the company that deals with fire and water disasters.  And through all of this, it was raining in the house.

My husband got home an hour or more later, having fortuitously read my text.  The plumber arrived after that, and told us that this NEW water heater, installed less than six months ago, had failed at the joint where it is attached to the water system.  It is under warranty.

However, the damage was done.  All that water went through the hardwood floors onto the slab – we live in a condominium – only here since March – and the floors began to buckle.  The disaster remediation company came, set up fans and dryers.  The process of remediation has begun – this entails coordinating the insurance company, the remediation company, the moving company that will have to come in and pack up all our things for storage while the hardwood floors are demolished and reinstalled, and ultimately the plumbing company which will probably end up footing the bill in the end.

We began undecorating yesterday when it was determined that the best option is for us to leave the house while all this is going on.  Due to the kindness of friends we have found a hotel suite for the next 12 days – we can perhaps extend that time if needed.  At the Christmas season in Nashville this kind of accommodation is hard to find, so we are grateful.

I am struggling to find some grace in all this.  We have been living since Sunday night in what feels to me like a roaring jetplane engine.  The fans are so loud, and we are not allowed to turn them off.  My husband says it is like being on a helicopter.  We are both sleep-deprived.  The cats were so traumatized that we decided to board them, but they are miserable there as well.

Christmas as it was planned won’t happen.  No Christmas Brunch in our new home.  All the sweet memories and decorations from years past put away.  I am glad we had them for a little while, and that we took a few pictures.

As I write about this event, I am so very aware of the fact that we are blessed.  We have a home; we have a place to go; we have friends; we have resources.  This problem can be fixed, but there are millions across the world whose homes are gone, or who have no home at all.

Friends, cherish the time you have and the home you have.  Life truly is unexpected, and we do not know what is coming next.  I would never have thought I would be spending this Christmas in a hotel.

And it will be all right, and we will celebrate Christmas no matter what, because it is about a new Light coming into the world, about love for humanity, and that can be celebrated in all circumstances.

I hope for myself that this experience will be a gentle reminder of the many blessings that I have and of the burdens others carry.

Merry Christmas, for those who celebrate it, and happy holidays for all.

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 – “What Thoughts and Prayers Look Like”

 

On Monday, October 2, 2017, I woke to the news of yet another mass shooting, the worst in our nation’s history.  My reaction to this news was disturbing, because at first I felt nothing other than a weary sadness and a sense of “another one”.  Where was the horror, the anger, the disbelief, the sorrow?  Have I become so desensitized to violence that I cannot react to such carnage?

I know that one of the first reactions to extraordinarily painful events is often shock.  We go on automatic pilot for a while, just to survive.  Trauma does that, both physically and emotionally.  As the week wore on, and the details of this event permeated the nation’s consciousness, as the stories of the victims and the lack of a known motive for the shooter became available, the protective walls came down.  The tears and sadness followed, along with the need/hope/wish to do something.

So many times when friends or acquaintances or strangers are in need, when a death has occurred, I hear people say – I say myself – my thoughts and prayers are with you.

My friend, Beth Pattillo, writes award-winning romance and women’s fiction. She is an ordained minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and a group spiritual director. She can be found online at www.bethpattillo.com.  Beth wrote a poem in response to the all the recent tragedies our world has experienced that spoke to me.  She has given me permission to share it with Her Savvy readers.

What Thoughts and Prayers Look Like

People lined up at blood banks
Texted donations
Cases of bottled water and container ships with MREs
Mosquito spray and goggles and strangers taking in strangers
More than words on a social media account
A kindness done every day
Not for the feel-good but for the other
Quiet, when we examine our hearts and listen for God
Who will tell us whether we are the problem or the solution
Refraining from violent thoughts, words, and actions
A displaced shelter dog adopted to a new home
A cake for a neighbor who is a first responder or medical provider
A refusal to engage in hatred
Hands and feet that do the work of goodness and walk the path with
Those who are in pain, in need, in turmoil
Love in action, in practice, in point of fact—
A giving of self, a giving up of self
Unsecured existence made secure
Not in ourselves but in something greater than ourselves

— Beth Pattillo

May we all find the way to love in action in these perilous times.

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 – A Storm Passes  

 

A friend and I were recently eating lunch at a popular Nashville restaurant.

We often sit toward the back of the restaurant, and this is also the area that many of the families with young children choose.  As we sat down and were served our meal, a little girl, perhaps four or five, dissolved into loud sobs.  Her distress intensified, as did the sound of her crying.

What happened next was amazing.

The child’s father, seated to her right, calmly pulled her chair closer to his, reached out, and gathered her into his arms, holding her close against his shoulder – and he just held her and let her cry.  He didn’t talk; he didn’t explain or tell her what to do; he didn’t tell her to pull herself together – he just held her and let her cry.

Within a couple of minutes the sobs began to diminish.  The child sat up, took some breaths, and soon got back to her own chair and her own meal.

The storm had passed.

We never really knew what precipitated her distress.  It could have been anything – hurt feelings, not liking her lunch, competing with her sister, wanting attention – we didn’t know.  What we did know, however, was that this father knew that if he let his daughter feel what she was feeling, without interfering or explaining or trying to change things, she would work it through.  And she did.

Children are so in touch with their feelings and their bodies – they know that they need to express the emotions that arise in them.   Our job is often to stay out of their way as they do so.  A child who has experienced a challenging moment has feelings arise and allows those feelings to move.  Loving presence is often the best thing we can offer.

What if the child were acting out – throwing things or harming self or others?  In that case, clear boundaries must be set, but loving presence as the child works through the experience is still needed.

I appreciated this father’s skill.  His daughter is being given a gift that will last a lifetime.  Would that all children could have that opportunity.

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 .

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

 

 

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The Other Side of the Couch – In Search of the Goldilocks Moment

Remember the childhood story of the Three Bears?  Goldilocks was in search of the Just-right bowl of porridge, the just-right chair, the just-right bed.  She tested each bowl, each chair, each bed, until she found the one that for her was Just Right.

Goldilocks was persistent.  She kept on trying until she found something that for her was just right.  She didn’t give up, even in the face of repeated disappointment.  Something in her experience kept on telling her to keep looking.  When she found what was just right for her, she knew.

However, Goldilocks was also selfish.  She walked into someone else’s home without knocking. She helped herself to food without being invited.  She broke furniture by sitting on a chair that SHE thought was just right, but which clearly was too small for her, and in the end she was scared to pieces when the bears came home and found her asleep in Baby Bear’s bed.

Goldilock’s ability to recognize what she wanted and to be willing to keep looking for it is admirable.  However, sometimes that intense focus becomes a problem in relationships.

I often see couples searching for those Goldilocks moments without awareness of the price that they may pay in looking for them.  Finding a Just Right moment without paying attention to the process of getting there can easily backfire.  Goldilocks knew what she wanted and went after it, but in the process she lost sight of the perspective of others.  Couples do this all too often by focusing on what one or the other wants without awareness of the wants of the other person.

I am so often surprised and saddened by the struggle that even the most articulate individuals have to use words in their relationships.  Partners expect each other to know their wants and needs without ever having articulated them.   Partners tell themselves:  “If I have to tell you about it, it isn’t valid.”   The result is that you don’t get what you want, you are guilty of the expectation of mind-reading, and you are often disappointed, because contrary to popular opinion, human beings in relationships have not mastered the “skill” of mind-reading.

Are you like Goldilocks in your coupleship – so determined to find what you want that you forget to check in with your partner?  Your story might have a different ending if you remember to ask your partner about what he/she wants, and if you create that story together.  Just Right moments in a coupleship are best created by partners who are willing to speak up, use words, and be direct about they want and need.

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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The Other Side of the Couch – Why We Write   

 

What is it about writing?

Writing is not innate.  While speaking as a form of communication is part of the developmental trajectory of the human being, writing (and its companion, reading) must be learned.  That learning process takes years and requires practice.  How many high school students have labored over the five-paragraph essay or complained about learning expository writing?

The physical process of writing is becoming a lost art as more and more people who write depend on the keyboard and computer.  Experts debate both sides of this issue.  Some say cursive should continue to be taught; others say opting for print is the best.  A third group says the focus needs to be on keyboarding.  As a left-handed writer whose handwriting was already shaky, the final blow was taking speedwriting after college – the result is that anyone who attempts to read my handwriting often needs translation.

And yet – the process of using language to write may have therapeutic results. As a professional counselor I often recommend exercises that involve writing.  If you are a worrier, keep a pad and pen beside your bed, and if you wake up and are worrying, get those worries out of you and onto paper.  This process sometimes will help you calm down and return to sleep.  If you have unfinished business with someone that cannot be safely or reasonably addressed with the person, write a letter to that person – a letter that you may never choose to send –  to reach some degree of closure.  If you are engaged in a process of self-exploration, the experience of keeping a journal may help you deepen your journey.

For me the essence of writing is connection.  I write because I have a thought, an experience, or a way of seeing that I want to share with others.  Bringing whatever this is out of myself and into a form in which I share it with others who may be interested, may respond, may be touched or moved or shaken, is for me part of the larger journey of being in community with other human beings.

I write because I have something to say. Writing feels like the creation of something bigger than myself.  I don’t know where my words go, where they land, what impact they have, but in bringing them out of myself and offering them to a larger world, I am engaged in the process of creation.  I don’t assume that my words are great literature or that they are life-changing.  They may just be my words – and that is ok, too.   I offer them as they are – and for my reader, they can be taken in whatever way the reader chooses.

Solace, comfort, joy – struggle, pain, despair – writing can be all those things to the writer and to the reader.

Is writing a part of your life?  Does it play a role?  Has it helped you?  Harmed you?  Open the door to this process and see where it might take you.  You could be surprised!

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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The Other Side of the Couch – Does Marching Matter? 


Following hard on the surprising election of Donald Trump, marches and protests have taken place across the United States and, indeed, across the world.  Beginning with the Women’s March, which took place the day after the inauguration, and which saw record crowds in almost all the areas in which it took place, most of these marches have been buoyed by a spirit of hope and connection.  The march in Nashville, Tennessee was described by the Tennessean as follows:

“About 15,000 people marched in downtown Nashville Saturday in solidarity with the Women’s March on Washington.  Middle Tennesseans marched for one mile from Cumberland Park to Public Square in support of a myriad of social justice issues, including women’s rights, reproductive rights, LGBT rights, worker’s rights, civil rights, disability rights, immigrant rights, environmental justice and access to health care.”  The Tennessean, Jan. 21, 2017

Since that march, other events have taken place, including town hall meetings with legislators, such as the one held on February 21, 2017 with Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn (R).

The question for me is this:  Does any of this matter?

Andreas Madestam, Daniel Shoag, Stan Veuger, and David Yanagizawa-Drott say that it does.  In a paper quoted below, “Do Political Protests Matter, Evidence from the Tea Party Movement,” the authors suggest the following:

Abstract

Can protests cause political change, or are they merely symptoms of underlying shifts in policy preferences?  We address this question by studying the Tea Party movement in the United States, which rose to prominence through coordinated rallies across the country on Tax Day, April 15, 2009.  We exploit variation in rainfall on the day of these rallies as an exogenous source of variation in attendance.  We show that good weather at this initial, coordinating event had significant consequences for the subsequent local strength of the movement, increased public support for Tea Party positions, and led to more Republican votes in the 2010 midterm elections. Policymaking was also affected, as incumbents responded to large protests in their district by voting more conservatively in Congress.  Our estimates suggest significant multiplier effects: an additional protester increased the number of Republican votes by a factor well above one. Together our results show that protests can build political movements that ultimately affect policymaking, and that they do so by influencing political views rather than solely through the revelation of existing political preferences.

  1. Madestam, et. al. The Quarterly Journal of Economics (2013) 128 (4): 1633-1685

The authors’ analysis shows that protests increased the turnout in the following congressional elections.  Thus, protests and marches DO affect legislators and affect turnout.  Keep on marching – but don’t forget to do the work of organizing and getting out the vote!

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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The Other Side of the Couch – Starting a Business

business-plan

When I first began to contemplate the idea of becoming a therapist I was not even aware of the differentiations among the mental health professions; nor was I aware of what creating a private practice in that field would require.  One of the mentors I consulted told me that It would take ten years before I really felt seasoned enough to open a private practice.  I told myself that she was mistaken, didn’t really know me and my intellect and determination – but as it turned out she was right on the money.  I began my first degree in the field of professional counseling in 1980, and I started a private practice in 1990 – with lots of school, two degrees, work in social services in Massachusetts, and in community mental health in Nashville, in between.

As a seasoned professional counselor, well-grounded in my ability to serve clients, to diagnose and treat, to create treatment plans, to help clients navigate the changes that they desired, I was in a good position.  However, clinical expertise is not all that running a private practice requires.

Nowhere in the experience that I had accrued did any course address the issues of starting a business.  In fact, the idea that private practice was a business was actively discouraged.  We were taught to see ourselves as professionals with a calling, and to hold the idea of “business” with some degree of disdain.  To acknowledge that we were in business and that we hoped to make money to sustain ourselves and our families was regarded with condescension.

I noticed that the few men with whom I trained had less difficulty with this issue.   The women, however, struggled.  What to charge?  How much was fair?  How can I help those who are struggling financially and who yet need my services?  The idea of a business plan didn’t even exist in my consciousness.

What I have learned over these years in practice is that the positives of private practice – no boss, flexible hours, working as much or as little as one desires – do not make the other side of running a business go away.  As a solo practitioner, I am responsible for EVERY ASPECT of my business. My first duty is to my clients, with FIRST DO NO HARM as the central ethical mandate.  I run my own schedule.  I return all phone calls.  I keep up with best practices in my field.  I attend conferences and make sure that I use continuing education to stay current.  However, I also market.   I recruit business.  I manage online and social media.  I create websites (or hire having them created).  I am responsible for keeping up with paperwork, for interacting with insurance companies.  I clean the office.  I vacuum.  I take out the trash.  I buy supplies – all the way from insurance forms to paper towels.  I also manage the bookkeeping and everything related to paying taxes, from quarterly assessments required for solo practitioners to Schedule C profit and Loss statements for income tax purposes.  This means keeping excellent records of everything related to the business.

If you want to start your own business as a private practitioner, I recommend the following:

  1. Talk to someone who has been in successful practice for a while.
  2. List the pros and cons.
  3. Recognize your own strengths and weaknesses. Consider hiring others to do things that are not your strengths.
  4. Have a business plan, an attorney and a bookkeeper, at minimum.

Good luck!

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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The Other Side of the Couch – What’s in a Name?

my-name-is

A question on Facebook recently sparked my curiosity regarding names.  The question was:  Were you named after someone?  I answered that question easily because I have always known that my name reflected a generational struggle perpetuated in my family from the early days of my parents’ marriage.

I was named “Susan” after my maternal great-grandmother, Susan Crawford White, and “Elisabeth” after by paternal great-grandmother, Elizabeth Wilson Mosier.  Please note the “s” in my name and the “z” in my great-grandmother’s name.  Because of that difference in spelling, my paternal grandmother rejected the idea that I was named after her mother.  The way she saw it was that my mother’s family had “won” some unnamed contest.

This “contest” reflected the merger of two different cultures – that of my mother’s family and my father’s family.  Mimi, my maternal grandmother, came from a Nashville family that had acquired some success.  Mimi’s younger brother, Weldon White, was an attorney who later became a Supreme Court justice in Tennessee.  Her family highly valued education; she graduated from Hume Fogg High School, and after her husband suffered financial reverses after WWI, she became the stable family breadwinner, teaching first grade in the Nashville public schools for forty years. A pioneer in her own way, she pursued her own college degree and graduated from Peabody College for Teachers at the advanced age of 47.  She was a life-long Democrat and supported the Equal rights Amendment when she was in her seventies.

Mam-ma, my dad’s mother, came from a different situation.  Her father moved his family repeatedly, always in search of a better situation.  Mam-ma left school after 8th grade, in part due to this constant moving.  She married at 20 to a young man who had ambition to get off the farm, and my grandfather won a position as a railroad mail clerk, moving the family to Nashville in 1924.   Mam-ma was very proud of her home and her homemaking skills; her home was her pride and joy.  A product of extreme poverty (her family never owned land and farmed for others), she believed in very traditional family values.  My grandfather was a staunch Republican, and she never questioned his positions.  However, they supported and were completely proud of my father’s college and medical school successes, and they made sure that their daughter also went to college.

So, what was the struggle?  These two strong women were jockeying for what they perceived as inclusion in the household that I entered as an infant.   Mimi was often present, always a helper, always looking for something to do that would be useful.  Mam-ma and Poppy visited often, but were the “fun” grandparents who brought us treats, took us to do fun things, but were not helpers in the way that Mimi was.  Mimi saw Mam-ma as overly frank, too direct, and a bit uncouth.  Mam-ma saw Mimi as a snob who was hypocritical.  My parents, and to some extent the children as well, were aware of navigating challenging waters between Mimi and Mam-ma.   Never overtly antagonistic, they nevertheless were cut from very different cloths and called each by their last names for all the years of my growing up.

One letter of the alphabet became emblematic of a much larger issue.  Who is included?  Who is on the outside?  How does a family navigate the choppy waters of extended family life?  How do mothers and mothers-in-law manage the tasks of allowing room for the new family to emerge?  It took these two women many years; I was an adult with a child of my own before they called each other by their first names.

The stories of my grandmothers seem to me to be emblematic of the divide that is roiling our country today.  One strand focuses on equal rights and embraces change; the other strand highly values continuity and traditional values.  I loved both of them dearly, and I celebrated the day they finally reconciled themselves to each other and to the family that my mother and father created.  Both were born at the tail-end of the 19th century; both lived to see changes that were unimaginable at their births.

The important part of this story is that they found a way to respect each other.  It was a process that was grounded in love.

What is the story of naming in your family?

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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The Other Side of the Couch – What Do You Do When Your Heart Is Broken?

broken-heart

November 8, 2016 started out as a day of hope for millions of United States citizens.  By November 9 that hope had been transformed into what felt and has continued to feel like a surreal nightmare.  As one young friend said to me that day, “This is not the country that I thought I lived in.”  Reminding one’s self that this election did not reflect the majority vote is helpful, but it does not change the fact that the person who triumphed in this race did so by unleashing the forces of bigotry and hate.

What can a person do who is struggling with what happened?  What do we tell our children, who in many cases have awoken to a totally unexpected world – a world in which bullies triumph and hate speech is condoned.  What do we tell our friends from other countries, whose skin color, accent, race or religion have been targeted?  What do we tell each other as women, whose ability to have control over our own bodies is in jeopardy?

I don’t have good answers to these questions.  I know that in this democracy power is passed peaceably.  I try not to believe that all the people who voted for him support these kinds of attitudes.  I have heard people say that they voted for him in spite of these attitudes because they are so desperate for change and felt so unheard.  Well, good luck with that.  You have unleased the genie, and putting all of this anger and hatred back in the bottle is going to be a hard job.

I know that he will be the 45th president.  I also know that I can’t give up and stop trying to effect change, be it at the most micro level by the way I talk to someone, listen to someone, write to someone, challenge someone.  I will hold my broken heart and sew it back together with words and actions that continue to support the values of caring and inclusion on which I have based my life.

What will you do?

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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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

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

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