Addict, Bipolar, Depressed, Gay—How to not take on labels.

No matter what you’ve done, what you may be diagnosed with, what you are, or what you may have gone through, you do not have to let it be the definition of WHO you are. Too many times there is judgment—whether it comes from others, or if it’s something that you place upon yourself. 

Words, looks, feeling avoided or excluded, judged--and especially a label you hold onto--can really hurt. Letting any stigma remain attached to you can only hold you back. You have the choice if that happens or not.  Your opinion of yourself is what matters most. Something a past client of mine said has stuck with me. “Once you focus on yourself, everyone else disappears.” They learned that saying through attending an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.  How can you create space for yourself to move towards accepting yourself for all you are, and leave the judgment behind?

Separate yourself from a label.  Some things are not a choice, and you are born into them. That does not mean you have to let that define you. Your behaviors, your diagnosis, your orientation, or any past events are not YOU.  They are things you did, something you were born with, or something you went through and survived. Starting to grab onto that concept can help you separate who you are as a person. 

Define who you are.  What do you value? Where do you want to see yourself?  Your perception of yourself is indeed your reality.  What we think becomes how we act. Once you begin to see yourself in a positive light, you can begin to live up to your own expectations, and meet your own needs. Who are you, or what are you working towards?

Own who you are.  Maybe there are parts of a “label” that you like to identify yourself with.  Maybe that part gives you an identity that makes you feel good about yourself, or helps you to stay on a positive path.  To accept yourself for all you are is a great accomplishment!  Can you take the parts that really do help you, and use those parts to help you grow?

Doing is believing.  Once you get to a point where you are comfortable with who you are, you can start working on doing the things that you were being held back from.  This is a leap, and easier said than done.  Remember, everything is a process, and takes time.  These are the things that taking on a label may have held you back from.  If you are in recovery from addiction, maybe it means being ready to find new activities that become part of your new life.  If you felt stigmatized due to being gay, maybe it means beginning to feel proud of who you are, attending events that celebrate your sexuality, or finding ways to practice not taking in other people’s judgments.  If you are bipolar, depressed, anxious, have panic attacks, or anything else that may or may not be diagnosable, maybe it means taking on activities or practices that help you make it through your high’s or low’s, and taking control of them, instead of accepting that is just how your life is; and there is nothing you can do to move past it.  I had a client that did have schizoaffective disorder, and no means to get medication to help him out.  He said that taking a cold shower was one thing that helped him make it through his most severe episodes. Whatever you can find, that is a healthy alternative, and it works, good for you for trying out new things to help yourself!

You can move past labels.  You can feel more comfortable with yourself. You can move towards creating the kind of life you want.   If any of this resonated with you, I hope it gave you some ideas on how you can start to work towards finding your own inner strength.  If you feel you need help finding your strength, always feel free to reach out.

 Amy

1.  Separate yourself from a label.

2.  Define who you are.

3.  Own who you are.

4.  Doing is believing.

 

When Words Hurt—How to not let others affect your mental health.

We all have had people say things to us at one time or another that really “sting”.  Sometimes they can stick with us, or end up with us carrying around the feelings we are left with.  Words can hurt.  They can add to anxiety or depression if you are already prone to it, and can leave you feeling frustrated, rejected, embarrassed, discouraged, or just plain miserable.  Holding onto anger, resentment or hurt can affect your mental health.

We are, after all, human.  We can feel unloved, unwanted, or like we don’t belong when others aren’t able to connect with us, and communicate in a healthy way.  It can be hard to not internalize that lack of connection as a reflection of your own worth.  How can you not take in what others say—unless it’s something nice?  

QTIP it.  Quit Taking It Personally.  Many times, it is not really about what someone says to you, but about them.  They may not be happy or comfortable with themselves, and lash out at others to make themselves feel good.  They may be having a bad day. The other person may also need the benefit of the doubt from you. Whatever the reasoning behind someone saying something that could negatively affect you, you do not have to take it personally.  My ex clinical supervisor brought this concept up so many times in a counseling group we co-facilitated that one client said to me that when they were done with the group, they were going to make a huge Q-tip to put on group room wall.  Another client in the group visualized throwing Q-tips at their partner whenever they said something they didn’t like, and would end up laughing at the situation.  Visualizing in whatever way works for you can help you not be affected, with practice.  In the book, The Four Agreements, author Don Miguel Ruiz states:

“Don’t take anything personally. Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.”

Accept or reject it.   Another visualization technique that can help you choose whether or not to take in what someone says to you is:  Picture someone saying something hurtful to you.  You have a feeling you most usually have when someone says something that really hurts you.  Now, visualize yourself putting your arm out straight in front of you with your palm of your hand turned up, fingers pointed towards the ceiling, and visualize yourself saying, “NO.  I do not accept that.”  If someone says something nice to you, or gives you a compliment, you would then visualize lowering your hand down, palm facing the floor, and then flipping your palm up, facing the ceiling, and saying, “YES.  I accept this.”  It’s a good visualization to practice in the moment.  It can mean the difference of carrying a feeling of sadness or happiness with you.

Use “I” statements.  Think of an argument you may have had that left you feeling bad.  Much of the time, the word, “you” is in there--with both parties pointing the finger at what the other one did.  This is one of the first things I learned about communication during my graduate studies regarding couples and communication.  It can be applied to any relationship.  When you feel like someone is pointing the finger at you, it can be a natural reaction to want to point the finger back. “I” statements can stop this. Instead of saying, “It pisses me off when you don’t listen to me!”  An “I” statement looks like, “When it seems like you’re not listening to me, I feel hurt, and like my opinion doesn’t matter.”  You’re instead communicating how you feel.  Learning how to be open and vulnerable in order to communicate how you feel can result in not having to live with feeling upset. 

Look for the lessons.  Finding out how to take comments or criticisms in a constructive way, instead of a hurtful way, also is a practice.  We are always, “becoming”.  It is okay if you do not perfectly respond to every comment, or do everything with perfection—even if you wish you could.  It is something to always strive towards.  If there is some truth to a comment or criticism made towards you, maybe take some time to digest it.  Even if it was not said in the nicest of ways, see if there is something that you can improve on for yourself, so you can work towards leading a happier life.  A line from, “The Sunscreen Song” by Baz Luhrmann states: “Remember the compliments you receive.  Forget the Insults.  If you succeed in doing this, tell me how.  Lessons are usually not easy.

Is it too much?  If someone is consistently criticizing you, it may be more than learning how to not take things personally, and a time to let them go.  Here is a quote that I often give to my clients.  “You don’t ever have to feel guilty about removing toxic people from your life.  It doesn’t matter whether someone is a relative, romantic interest, employer, childhood friend, or a new acquaintance--you don’t have to make room for people who cause you pain, or make you feel small.  It’s one thing if a person owns up to their behavior, and makes an effort to change.  But, if a person disregards your feelings, ignores your boundaries, and “continues” to treat you in a harmful way, they need to go. –Daniell Koepke

When you practice new ways, you will start to see things through a different lens.  This will then help you have better relationships with others, especially the one with yourself.  It takes time, and a consistent awareness and effort to not let what others say affect you.  Your goal is to find hopefulness, happiness and peace for the benefit of your mental health.

Always feel free to reach out if you feel more help is needed than what’s typed here in black and white.  If this article does not apply to you, please click on the title in bold above to go to its separate page where you can share it with someone who you think might benefit from it.  Thank you.

Amy

1. QTIP it.

2.  Accept or reject it.

3.  Use "I" statements.

4.  Look for the lessons.

5.  Is it too much?

Self Esteem—Your pursuit of happiness

You may have heard the common saying, “You have to love yourself first.”   These clichés are just that, but there is truth to them.  In The Pursuit of Happyness with Will Smith, it meant a fight to become stable financially.  More importantly, his character focused on teaching his son very valuable lessons of not ever giving up, love, and trust. 

With any decision you make, many times, you already can feel if the decision you’re making is right for you.  I once knew a decision was so wrong for me, that thinking about actually choosing to do it gave me the most vivid nightmare I have had in years—that kind that wakes you up in the middle of the night, and you aren’t sure if you’re still dreaming or not.  I did not choose to take that path.  The content of the dream was very related, and that was enough of a message for me.  The path I was already on was making me happy, and I chose to stay on it.

What can you do to lead yourself down a path of feeling good about yourself, and your decisions?  That is a road that has questions along it that only you can answer for yourself, but here are some things you can try in your personal pursuit of happiness.

Pay attention to your gut.  Your intuition, or your gut feeling, really is trying to tell you something. If you have a sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach that something is wrong for you, you are probably right.  If it is uncomfortable, effects your sleep--bringing up anxiety, or depression--it may be time to take a different path to something that makes you feel comfortable, healthy, allows you to sleep at night, feel at ease, and makes you happy.

Realize when it is not your fault.  Many things are passed down to us, intentional or not.  Maybe you grew up with someone that had low self esteem, or didn’t teach you how to be proud of yourself, or confident in your decisions.  Just like mental health concerns, low self esteem, and not being happy or comfortable with yourself, can be passed down.  That does not mean you cannot take steps to find out what can make you happy.

Try new things.  Is there anything that you enjoyed growing up that you might want to get back to?  Is there anything that you always wanted to try, but haven’t?  Is there a person you admire for what they do, and you’d love to try the same?  Have you ever thought, “If only I could do that.”?  The first time you try something new, it may take a hold of you instantly; or you may enjoy it, but it might take practice to become good at it.  Know that taking baby steps in the right direction for you, is better than not taking any steps at all. 

Question yourself. Oftentimes, instead of pleasing ourselves, we can tend to try to please others, or do something that we think will make them proud of us.  Maybe you once enjoyed something, but not anymore. You can apply this to anything and everything--your career choice, activities you engage in, people that are in your life, where you live, or even the way you have your house decorated.

  • What will truly make you happy? 
  • Is your environment, and those you chose to be in it, adding to your life, or taking away from you?
  • What energizes you? 
  • What would give you the identity that would make you proud of yourself?

Those are some big questions.  Yet, taking time to answer them can lead you down a path to what makes you authentically happy and comfortable with you. Once you have the questions answered, make a list of steps that you can take to get you there, and how having your answers will change the way you feel about yourself.

Once you start to have an idea of how to get where you want to be, you’ll start to feel more happy and fulfilled.  As you begin to feel happier, those around you will start to notice your changes.  If the people in your life are right for you, this will most likely make them feel happier too.  So, don't ever give up, love yourself first, and trust your journey.

Raising your self esteem, and becoming happy is not something that happens overnight. It takes time and effort. Please feel free to reach out to me if you feel you would like assistance through your process.

Amy

1. Pay attention to your gut.

2. Realize when it is not your fault.

3. Try new things.

4. Question yourself.

 

Work or Entrepreneurship—Which one is you?

Are you happy with the career you’re in now, or is there something you’ve always dreamed of doing?  What motivates you?  What doesn’t motivate you?  What are you good at? Do you thrive working with others, or do you do your work better on your own?  It can feel daunting to not have clarity right now, or to feel your career focus shifting.  Know that your questioning is a great catalyst for the next big phase of your life.

Recently, I have had people in varying careers question if they belonged where they are in their career, or how they could somehow expand on it.   Some have expressed not being sure if they wanted to do something else, or if doing what they love is something they should go out on their own and do, or maybe find a way to make it part of their career.   Which one is you?

Growing up, you may have been sure of what you wanted to be.  You may have later followed a path into a family business.  You may have gone to college.   You may have had a skill that amazed people how good you were at it, and were told you should be doing it for a living.

I had a professor in college that had been in three different careers—a pastor, a counselor, and a teacher.  I remember thinking, “Wow!  He’s done a lot!”  Well, I have at least doubled the career paths he had taken at that point.  Many people do not end up doing what they went to school for because other things gain their interest, and that’s okay.  The old adage from the philosopher Confucius, “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” rings true for myself.  I’ve been on both sides of that quote. 

If you are in a place where you are stuck, whether it’s expanding on your career, taking that leap of faith into entrepreneurship, or following your passion into a different career--there are resources and exercises you can do to help you figure out which direction is right for you.

Turn towards literature.  There are a few books you can turn to on your path of self discovery.  One of the books I turned to, that led me to see that career counseling was something that should be integrated into my practice, was, What Color Is Your Parachute by Richard Nelson Bolles.  He wrote the book for the same reason I picked it up.  His career path was not anything you could walk a straight line on.  Figuring out what to do with your life, that will most likely be most of your life, is a big decision.  There’s also, The Great Work of Your Life:  A Guide for the Journey to Your True Calling, by Stephen Cope. This book can offer contemplation and inspiration.  There is also StrengthsFinder 2.0 by Don Clifton.  This book offers an assessment that gives you five qualities of you that can then be associated with certain careers.

Take notes. I used to administer career interest tests during a graduate school internship.  These tests, if you have not ever taken one, asks questions that can give you a picture of where you might want to be.  They ask questions like the first paragraph in this article-- Do you like to work alone, or with others?  Do you like to work indoors or outdoors?  There are many questions you can ask yourself.  One exercise is to put pen to paper, or fingers to computer, and start listing all the different aspects you want in your career life.  By listing all of the different aspects you prefer, it may start to paint a clearer picture for you. You could also use post-it notes, write ideas down on them, and post them where you will be most likely to look at them, and see what resonates, or if something consistently keeps coming up.

Try an internship.  If you already know what career you have an interest in, finding a place to, “shadow”, or intern at a place you’re interested in may not only confirm if it is the right path for you; but you may also gain connections, make a name for yourself, and end up with the prospect of being able to work there if it is a good fit.  I know someone that recently found their dream job through connections they had made on LinkedIn.  Try asking people on this professional site about their career, and see where the conversation take you.

Embrace your journey.  Finding your exact fit can cause anxiety.  It is a process, and a journey.  With so many choices out there, it can be overwhelming.  But, once you narrow it down, maybe you can then start with one idea you come up with, and build from there.  Trial and error can also end in clarity. Don’t forget, the turtle won the race!

I hope this helps anyone struggling to make a decision, or take a new path.  If you are still in need of more guidance, please do not hesitate to reach out.  I have been there.

Amy

1.  Turn towards literature.

2.  Take notes.

3.  Try an internship.

4.  Embrace your journey.

Happy Holidays—or are they depressed holidays?

So many are thrilled for the upcoming holiday season, but so many are not.  For those not thrilled at all, the holiday rush is a source of stress, a time of remembering and grieving those you’ve lost, facing the mortality of those you’re close to that will not be around for many more holidays, or a time you dread because your family is not the most enjoyable to spend time with. 

It is not just the upcoming holiday season.  Veterans Day is almost here.  I have a friend who is a newlywed.  She just had to say goodbye to her husband at 3:00 AM at the airport the morning he left for deployment.  She will not be able to see him until sometime next year.  It's rough all around for people that are no longer with us, or we are not able to be with, no matter what day or time of year.

What can you do to help yourself get through this season of reminders that your loved ones are not with you?  These are suggestions I have given in the past, and they all can be tailored to something that may work better for you.  The purpose of counseling is to help you find answers that are right for you; so please feel free to embellish on, or discount, any of these ideas to make them fit you.

Acknowledge and allow your feelings.  The first step is to give yourself permission to feel.  There also is no right or wrong way to feel.   If someone is no longer with you, you are not able to be with loved ones, or you are alone; you have a right to your feelings.  I have never told one of my clients to, “put on your big girl/boy pants on and smile”.  If you are sad, you are allowed.  If you need to cry, allow yourself to.

Create new traditions.  Before my “snowbird” parents started to come down to Florida, I spent many a holiday at different friend’s homes, or homes of their families.  I knew my parents would be here for Christmas; but I referred to myself as the, “Thanksgiving orphan”.  One year, some of my closest friends had moved away, and another friend had to work.  I decided to make food that was the exact opposite of Thanksgiving turkey.  I made lasagna, and bought a blackberry cobbler—so good!  Later, my friend that had to work came over, and we watched a Halloween-themed movie.  I did what I thought would lend to me feeling my best spending the day alone.  You also could involve yourself in holiday events the St. Petersburg area has to offer.  You could choose to attend social events, or volunteer any time of the year--and possibly end up feeling more a part of your community. Try different things.

Reach out.  I know someone locally that invites people to his house every year for the holidays.  A lot of us are transplants in Florida, and are not able to spend every holiday with our loved ones.  If nobody you know does this, and you feel like celebrating with others, maybe you could try hosting something. Maybe each person could bring a dish.  Maybe you love doing it all because you came from a huge family.  Maybe continuing to carry on the traditions you’ve enjoyed, and being there for others that feel alone too, will be what works.

Take care of you.  You may have heard of RICE when you injure yourself.  Rest, Ice, Compress, Elevate.  Now might be a good time to find time to rest, and ways to cool off if you’re having family conflict, (de)compress to feel calm, and do things to elevate your mood.  You could simply take time for a nap. You can make sure you stay consistent with healthy habits, or take on a new one.  Choose anything that is good for your mind, body, or spirit.  An example I’ve always remembered was a friend that went to a place that was special to her on her birthday.  She drove an hour and a half to a place she loved, contemplated how her past year was, and what she wanted the next one to look like.   She expressed gratefulness for just being alive.  She did not need a big party, or anyone to acknowledge the day, besides herself.  That is one of the greatest lessons I have learned, and put to practice in my own way.

If you need more, seek out professional help.  If you are at a loss of where to start, or if you have tried everything you think you could, are continuing to feel sad or hopeless, anxious or stressed, or are feeling affected physically, please do not hesitate to reach out. 

Amy

1.      Allow yourself to feel.

2.      Create new traditions.

3.      Reach out.

4.      Take care of you.

5.      Seek out help.