Tag Archives: self care

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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Get On The Table!!!

I was talking with a dear friend the other day. Her mother has been having neck pain. It is severe and fairly constant. She underwent a major surgery last spring for a tumor in the frontal lobe of her brain, which, thankfully, turned out to be benign. The recovery process was quite arduous and it took its toll on her. Because she wasn’t able to move her head at all for some time and had to remain sedentary for a time after that, her muscles “stiffened up” as she describes it. My friend is a total believer in therapeutic massage. She has seen the results it has provided for her in times of stress and “discomfort.” Yet, try as she might, even though her mother has witnessed the benefits of the work, “Mother” refuses to give it a chance.

As bodyworkers, my colleagues and I have encountered this scenario countless times and we often share our perplexity with each other. Why, we wonder, are some people so resistant? Bodywork/therapeutic massage may seem new to our culture, but it’s not like this really is something new.  Naturalhealers.com says,

“The practice of using touch as a healing method derives from customs and techniques rooted in ancient history. Civilizations in the East and West found that natural healing and massage could heal injuries, relieve pain, and prevent and cure illnesses. What’s more, it helped reduce stress and produce deep relaxation.”

So what could be so bad about that? Some of us consider it resistance to change. Let’s face it, we all, yes ALL, have moments of that conflict, and it can hold us back on many levels. But you would think folks suffering with pain would literally jump at any opportunity to get out of it, especially if it doesn’t require surgery or drugs and can actually be a pleasurable experience. Sure, sometimes “therapeutic” bodywork can result in some discomfort, but it is temporary and a means to an end, as they say. From a wonderful article in the Harvard Business Review, Ten Reasons People Resist Change, Rosabeth Moss Kanter suggests:

Excess uncertainty. If change feels like walking off a cliff blindfolded, then people will reject it. People will often prefer to remain mired in misery than to head toward an unknown. As the saying goes, “Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t know.” To overcome inertia requires a sense of safety as well as an inspiring vision.

Everything seems different. Change is meant to bring something different, but how different? We are creatures of habit. Routines become automatic, but change jolts us into consciousness, sometimes in uncomfortable ways. Too many differences can be distracting or confusing.

Though the article is about leadership, to me, it applies to healing as easily. Perhaps people wonder, “What if I don’t feel better? or, (Oh no!) What if I DO? I’ve been living with this for so long now, how will I live without it?”

I believe in massage therapy. I believe in bodywork; whichever name you choose. I practice the very light touch, CranioSacral Therapy. I often incorporate dialogue too. I think all of my colleagues would agree that the key is trust. If we get the opportunity to get a person to trust us, to feel safe with us, then, hopefully, they’ll see and accept healing ahead, and we can finally get them to       get on the table!

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 – 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 – Books That Have Touched My Life

reading-baby

I really cannot remember a time when I could not read.  I know that my mother read to me, even as a baby.  A family story chronicles me at three reciting “The Night Before Christmas” in its entirety to my two year-old sister. I remember at six dancing down the hall of the house, having received a set of the Bobbsey Twins series for my birthday.  Later the Cherry Ames, Student Nurse Series and biographies of accomplished women took center stage.  Wherever I went I had a book.  I was called out in class for reading under the desk during other classes.  In the summer I stacked books beside my chair in the living room and read voraciously.

Books took me to other places, other stories, other lives.  Books took me away from my own lonely life in middle and high school, becoming the friends for whom I longed.  Books widened my world, taking me to ancient Rome (Great and Glorious Physician), to Renaissance Italy (The Agony and the Ecstasy), ancient England (The Mists of Avalon), to a romanticized South (Gone with the Wind).   I climbed the moors with Jane Eyre, rejected and then fell in love with Mr. Darcy.  Discovering theater, I reveled in Shakespeare’s tragedies and comedies.

As a professional counselor a whole other genre of books has become significant.  The stories of people’s lives embodied in historical and other fiction have been amplified by the professional literature of a lifetime.  Out of all of the hundreds of books and articles I have read over thirty plus years, three stand out as especially life-changing.

The first is On Becoming a Person by Carl Rogers, in which he elucidates the three core conditions required for transformational change in a client (empathy, authenticity, and unconditional positive regard).  These foundational principles have informed my work from its inception.  Second is the amazing leap into a new way of seeing power, articulated by Jean Baker Miller in her seminal work Toward a New Psychology of Women, in which she describes “power with” rather than “power over” as a way to understand the relational process of transformation.  Third is the slim volume called Focusing by Eugene Gendelin, a book that opened the door into the centrality of the body-based knowing that creates change, if it is given a chance.

Whether fiction, biography, or professional literature, what all of these stories and experiences have in common is an arc of change.  Characters grow, develop, learn.  People live through struggle, learn new ways of being.  Through my profession I have learned how to be part of and witness to that process of change, informed by the touchstones of presence and witness.

Does your life story have an arc?  Have you considered how your story could be created?  What if you were an author, considering a biography of the life you have led?  What would you see?

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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Books That Changed My Life

Reading

Growing up, I spent most of my free time with my nose in a book.  I was not athletic, I was not particularly popular, and lived in a crowded duplex with three generations of my family.  Reading was always my escape and I read voraciously.  My parents, both teachers, had shelves of books and I loved looking at them, touching them, flipping through the pages.  I can still picture the battered shelves with titles from O. Henry, Edgar Allen Poe, William Shakespeare, Sinclair Lewis and many more.

When I was in grade school, I loved reading biographies, primarily those of women,  Clara Barton, Louisa May Alcott, Marie Curie, Maria Tallchief and Isadora Duncan, just to name a few.  It was through the lives of these pioneering women that I could imagine a world of possibilities for myself.

It was around this time, that I also entered the world of fantasy through one of my all time favorites, “A Wrinkle in Time.”  Even today I continue to love stories about time travel.  There’s something about the mind-bending nature of the genre that keeps me thinking about it long after I’ve finished the last page.  I even enjoy films about time travel, yes, “Back to the Future,” never ceases to entertain me, and the romance of “Somewhere in Time,” still haunts.

As I grew up, I fell in love with mysteries.  Yep, I had a small collection of Nancy Drew stories, but I quickly moved on to Agatha Christie, an interest that continues to this day.  I love nothing more than to curl up with a good “whodunit,” especially when I’m on an airplane or on vacation.  Then, I can enjoy the whole book in one sitting!  Mystery readers know there is nothing more frustrating than putting the book down, only to return days (or weeks) later and not remember what is going on!

As an adult, I fell in love with Harry Potter, and the writing of J. K. Rowling when my son wanted to read the books.  I felt I should take a read, first, to make sure it was age appropriate for him.  Of course, he moved on and I was hooked.  Her writing was surprising, evocative and rich and I could not get enough.  Eventually, my younger son found the books and together we explored the magical world of wizards.

In recalling these books that changed my life, it’s clear to me that there is no one book that defines me. I guess if there is a theme, it’s that I am drawn to stories that spark my imagination, make me dream about the fantastic, and open my mind to a world of possibilities.

About Barbara Dab

Barbara Dab is a journalist, broadcast radio personality, producer and award-winning public relations consultant.  She is the creator of The Peretz Project: Stories from the Shoah: Next Generation.  The Peretz Project, named for her late father-in-law who was a Holocaust survivor, is collecting testimony from children of survivors.  Check it out at http://www.theperetzproject.com.  If you are, or someone you know is, the child of survivors of the Shoah, The Holocaust, and you would like to tell your story please leave a comment and Barbara will contact you.

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Permission to Create

Big MagicWorking as a creative person, I identify when hearing other creatives’ experiences and struggles.  Elizabeth Gilbert is one such person.  Her book Eat, Pray, Love, which chronicled her adventure of travel to pursue the three things that she most wanted to feel and be immersed in, connected with millions of people.

Her latest book, Big Magic, was a good listen for me.  She went through all the funky negatives we tell ourselves that keep us from creating.  She also gave examples of beloved pieces of art where people carved out a few pieces of time a day to create them.  I like the way she encourages us to create, not for money, not for success, but just for our happiness.

People talk to me about my art like I have a special gift.  I see how people are moved when I tell them about my experience of taking a painting class for the first time, and how I embraced it and knew it was something I wanted to pursue.  I appreciate that people are moved and inspired, and I understand that I have an ability to do what I do, but I don’t believe that I have anymore of a gift than anyone else, except that I became willing to give myself permission.  And what that meant was giving myself the tools that I needed to adventure, hence the painting class.  It was a long time in pause and in the “I don’t know if I can,” or “I don’t think I would be good,” since I had my first drawing class in the mid-1990’s.  Before the class, I could not draw good stick people, but I just wasn’t ready to carve out the time, or venture further, for almost twenty years.

So Elizabeth’s book is another tool, of encouragement, of permission to continue exploring, working toward something I want to achieve.

I hope you will give yourself permission to explore your interests.

Renee Bates

August 1, 2016

About Renee Bates

Renee is an artist focused on growing a newfound ability to express herself through oil painting, recently leaving her role as executive director of the non-profit Greenways for Nashville to pursue art and product development.  Renee likes being in nature, hiking, birding, and working in the garden. Married to David Bates of Bates Nursery and Garden Center, a 3rd generation business begun in 1932. Renee admires the fact that it was begun by a savvy woman, Bessie Bates.  Renee’s art may be enjoyed from her website or followed on Facebook.

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The Other Side of the Couch – What To Do When It’s Too Late

Too Late

The woman sitting across from me is a mess.  She is in my office because her husband of thirty years has out of the blue announced that he wants a divorce.  The entire narrative of her life has been turned upside down in the space of a few hours.  The reality that she has lived with – that she is loved, that she is part of a partnership that is ongoing, that she and her husband have had their issues, but will always work them out and will grow old together – is torn apart.  She is facing a broken home, a home that she has poured everything she has into creating and maintaining.  She chose to be a stay-at-home mom, and their financial circumstances allowed this to happen.  She was so certain of the relationship that the idea of its being gone is literally nauseating.

I know the long road ahead of this woman as she enters the netherworld of interrogatories, property settlements, splitting of assets.  Who keeps the house, does anyone keep the house, does anyone WANT to keep the house?  How will the children manage?  Even as adults, divorce breaks families apart.  Custody may not be an issue, but adult emotional loyalties are as delicate and easily damaged as a child’s psyche.

The experience of breaking apart a marriage is wrenching for all concerned.  Whether married for months or years or decades, couples carry into a divorce the reality of heartbreak and broken dreams.  More often than not one of the spouses is anxious to end things, and the other spouse wants only to hold on in the hope that something, anything, will stop the inevitable demise of the marriage.

The end of a marriage is a crazy time for both partners.  Whether both want the marriage to end or one does and the other doesn’t, the effect of breaking the bonds of attachment and commitment is profound, if sometimes unconscious for a time.  The leaver often becomes callous to the pain of the “leavee,” or the leaver may become so guilty about wanting to leave that he/she makes financial decisions that are not reasonable.  If the decision is mutual, there is nonetheless a need for dealing with the psychic fallout from what amounts to a nuclear bomb going off in people’s lives.

One way to mitigate some of this distress is by using some of the attorneys, therapists and mediators who are committed to using the collaborative divorce model.  Even if two people are not in agreement about ending the marriage, the use of collaborative divorce can dial down the adversarial struggle that mirrors the internal pain of the dying marriage.  Another helpful process is that of using Divorce Care (which has a religious component and is often found in churches) or Divorce Recovery, a more secular support process.

Have you gone through a break-up or a divorce?  What was helpful to you?  Please leave ideas and comments below, and thank you.

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

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The Other Side of the Couch – Down, Down Below the Street

 

Sesame Street

 

When my daughter was small one of our favorite activities was to watch “Sesame Street” together.  This wonderful Children’s Television Workshop program was designed to engage both children and adults on a number of levels.  I often found that I learned things from watching the show, and I certainly loved watching my little girl learn about the world.  A favorite segment was called “Down, Down Below the Street,” sung by the acapella group 14K Soul.   The song introduced the idea that lots of things are going on in the sub-structure of a city, like all the various pipes and connections that bring light, heat and water and that allow for messy things to be discarded.   It’s a below-the-surface process that works without the folks above the street being completely aware of what is going on.

It seems to me that this is a lot like what goes on in our relationships.  Things just go along, seeming to work themselves out without many hitches, and we are not really consciously aware of the process – until the pipes break or the electricity fails (metaphorically speaking), and we suddenly find ourselves in the relational wilderness of broken expectations and destroyed trust.

One of the hardest hurdles that I experience in working with couples is that of the repeated “I’m sorry” that does not result in behavior change.  One partner does something that is hurtful to the other, and in the best of all possible scenarios, the couple is able to talk about this in a non-blaming way (This is what happened for me when you did “x” and “this is what was going on for me when I did “x”).  Both come away from the conversation with a deeper understanding and compassion for each other.

However, the next time that “x” happens, things are not going to go so well – and if “x” keeps on happening, even though promises are made to refrain from “x” or do something other than “x”, trust is eroded.

When that happens, one has to dig a little deeper to understand what is really going on – because it isn’t what is on the surface.  What is “down below the street” in the relationship has to be addressed.  Maybe one partner has been holding out on saying something about an issue that is really bothersome, or maybe someone has strayed beyond the agreed-upon boundaries of the relationship, or maybe the chores aren’t being done – it could be any content issue, but the REAL down-below-the-street issue is WHAT REACTIVE BEHAVIOR DOES THIS BRING UP IN ME OR MY PARTNER?  How does the way I respond to this issue bring me closer to or farther away from my partner?  And is that distance what I want, or is it a reaction to stuff I haven’t addressed in my own life?

Relationships are full of “sunny days” (“sunny days, chasing the clouds away”) and at the same time Down-Below-the-Street is always part of life on any street we take.  I hope you will take the time to be curious about your own reactive behaviors, and I wish you lots of sunny days.

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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