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Feeling Overwhelmed - Picture copyright 2009 Laura Burlingame-Lee

Feeling Overwhelmed - Picture copyright 2009 Laura Burlingame-Lee

I recently got one of those super-uper-duper, ultra deluxe daily planners so I can organize things for my private practice. While it’s really cool for a lot of things, one of the things I like the best is this little insert card based on the book “7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” It asks you to pick something in each of four realms and come up with things that get in the way of you doing it.

This is easy enough and I decided that I would also list what I could do to counter those things. (I’m probably using it wrong, but who cares? I’m using it and it’s helping me, right? 🙂 ) Anyway, I’ve found that a pattern has been developing. For a lot of things, fear is the reason I’m not doing whatever it is that I’m supposed to be doing. For example, in the social/emotional realm, I’ve noticed that I really don’t like making “cold calls” (calls to people I’ve never spoken to, trying to promote my business.) Now, to start a business, you really HAVE to make a number of cold calls, right?

So in thinking about what’s getting in way, fear is a big part of it. Specifically, I’m afraid of being rejected, ridiculed or hung up on. Honestly, being ridiculed is probably not going to happen – so that particular fear is a little unrealistic. However, the other two are real risks. So, in my planner, my “Do it:” activity is “Do One Thing.”

Doing one thing makes things a little easier – it makes whatever is getting in the way less threatening. If I have to only make one call, I can do other things that might make rejection easier to deal with. If I can do only one thing, it might be a “baby step” toward making the call – like looking up the phone number or contact person via the web. It might be realizing that I can send an email, and then make the call a follow-up. There are a multitude of “one thing”s I can do.

The same is true for the physical, mental/business, and spiritual realms. Often I get busy with minutiae that distract me and end up enabling the fear or lack of motivaton to do the other tasks. Again – one thing. If it’s physical, I can make sure to take a short walk – it doesn’t have to be my usual 4-5 mile trek. If it’s mental/business – another area where fear rules, because I don’t know much about business – I can read one chapter in a book devoted to running a small business. If it’s spiritual, it can be as simple as noticing the Divine in the world around me. I can see it in my children’s smiles and laughs, the blue sky and green around me (thank you for the rain!), the wonderful friendships I have and am making.

Again, doing ONE thing can help counter the problem. Lack of motivation, fear, lack of intertia – these all get in the way of us living our lives. How many times have you found yourself wishing that you could do something, but feel overwhelmed by the enormity of the task? Of how difficult it is? Or how complicated? Doing one thing – one thing each day – helps you first, break down the task into do-able chunks and second makes it less overwhelming or difficult.

My one thing lately has been MOVE! I’ve written about moving before, and moving to me means moving in all the realms – doing one thing is a form of moving. I’m not completely set up yet, but I’ve also noticed that once I do ONE thing, it’s a lot easier to do more. I usually end up doing more than one thing on my task list, but I only hold myself accountable for doing one. Anything else is a bonus, and it helps.

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There are some bright spots today – Aidan, my little 5-year old boy who is autistic, has decided that he wants to wear big-boy pants!!!! Hallelujah, he may not go to school in pull-ups. I’ve been changing his diapers for 5 1/2 years, and I am SO ready to be done with that. I think he got jealous of his 3-year old sister, which is FINE by me. 🙂 That, and the “tooth fairy” left a note for him telling him he had to be a big boy and wear big boy pants, because he’s growing up. ;p

The other bright spot comes from my daughter Rebecca – I’ve never seen a child narrate her life to music the way this little girl does. Everything is something to sing about – “I going to water, water plants…” to “I go to the pot-tay, pot-tay, pot-tay…” to (at the top of her little lungs) “Mommy’s driving, Mommy’s driving cossetrate!” Seeing her sing reminds me of myself at her age…I loved to sing. My mother used to tell me “Laura, you couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket.” Well, Becca doesn’t either…and I LOVE to hear her singing. It’s the most beautiful sound in the world to me, next to hearing my kidlets laugh – it shows she’s so happy with her world, that she just breaks out in song.

How much better does it get? 🙂

Aidan and Becca playing "hide from Mommy" at the park - June 2009

I don’t know about you all, but to me the idea of a “retreat” sounds pretty wonderful right now. (A Caribbean vacation does, too – but hey, I’m trying to think realistically!). A friend of mine in Connecticut, Corinne “CoCo” Melvin is hosting a women’s retreat with the theme “Realize, Release, and ReFire” in Westport, CT. (Not to mention that face that being in CT in and of itself is a retreat for me!)

I admit it – I’m jealous! Frankly, I would love to ease back, and enjoy a retreat…I’d have hot teas (herbal, decaf, and regular), and yummy foods: fruit, cheese,crackers – and of course, chocolate! Soft relaxation music playing… I envision a group of about 20-30 women, interested in empowering themselves, living fully, and realizing the power of each other by learning about themselves and each other over the course of a day…a place where we can come together, and know that we’re not alone in all this. We are not alone – powerful words, again.

I’d have journaling workshops with all kind of creative materials, a stretching or yoga class, a meditation class, or creative visualization. I’d do a session on developing and writing your own personal myth – YOUR story, and where you want it to go, as well as do something where people could develop and create a personal symbol for them – to symbolize their growth, their self-love, and their connection to what’s important to them. I would hope to find something where people could connect with their dreams, and the person who gets lost in the day-to-day hassles of everyday living – and be able to take home that symbol as a reminder that this person is STILL there.

I would love to finish the day with a meal – literally, break bread with each other, and end with a releasing and celebration service or ritual, in the outside world…a park or yard, some outside space whereever we’d be.

As women, we often have the sense that we have to go it alone, that we have to be perfect and never show any weaknesses. We feel so isolated, even around people, because it’s so hard to let our authentic selves out. We feel vulnerable, judged, possibly rejected because we may or may not fit in, or we may not fit what we thing others want us to be. We are so alone, and lonely sometimes…I would love to have this retreat as a way to connect with each other, to say “you’re NOT alone” and “I understand”…”WE understand.” “You really CAN be who you are here, it’s ok.”

Anyway, that’s my dream retreat. I hope someday soon, I can make it happen. Until then…I’m dreaming, too – and working to make that dream a reality.

This is cross-posted from my other blog, “The Other Side of the Couch” where I discuss more psychological and professional issues.

Do you ever have times when it feels like the world is crashing down, and everybody wants everything – not just now, but yesterday-than-you-very-much? Sigh…it’s been one of those days for me. I feel like I’m spinning my wheels with trying to find work -and setting up a private practice feels like starting to climb Mt. Everest. There’s not just the therapy/psychology stuff to tie up (application for licensure, getting supervision, finding office space…) but also the business aspects, like registering a business in Colorado, figuring out what taxes and how much I’m going to have to pay, finding all the right forms, dotting all the i’s and crossing all the t’s. And the big thing, of course, is the money.

I’m like a lot of you – I have a lot of student loans and a credit card. My credit card, I will take full and total responsibility for – after all I decided to use it and I need to be the one to pay it. It’s that simple. My student loans…well, I wouldn’t have gotten through school without them, and I WANT to pay them off. I’m making payments now – barely – with my job as a nursery supervisor in our church. BUT – the money to start my practice has to come from somewhere, right?

I feel like I can’t apply for a loan – how am I going to say I’m going to pay it, when I’m not even sure I’m going to get clients? How do I advertise my services (groups, couples, individuals, personality disorders, DBT, etc) without spending some money somewhere on promotional materials? It feels like a catch-22, and I feel so discouraged.

If you ever looked at my professional blog, you know I advocate strongly for coping tools. So…I’m practicing what I preach. I’m telling myself that I don’t have to do it all at once, that I can get help if I need it, and somehow it will work out. I’m writing (something that helps me), journaling and soothing myself (hot cup of tea, anyone? I made a MEAN coconut chai…) I’m planning, too – I’ve got a notebook and am keeping track of everything I’ve done, people I’ve contacted, promotional ideas, and initial/start-up expenses.

In all actuality, my start-up costs are going to be pretty low for a new business – about $3000. I COULD finance that on another credit card, but I figure I”m worried enough about making payments on the one I have and on my student loans. I guess that getting a loan isn’t much different, though – I’d be making a monthly payment no matter what, right? So…I think the hardest part is getting over the fear.

And funny I should be facing this yet again…One of my favorite self-help books is called, “Feel the fear and do it anyway” (Susan Jeffers – AWESOME book). The fear is really what’s overwhelming, when I get down to it. Everything else is details, and are things I can take care of…it’s that fear – the fear of failing, of having to declare bankruptcy, of having my credit ruined (my ex-hubby did that for me before and I NEVER want to go through that again) – there are any number of things to be afraid of.

So if I were working with a client, what would I say? Probably pick one baby step, and do it. Just do it, and then deal with the fear. I’d remind myself that I really don’t have to do it all at once, and that baby steps are fine. I’d probably have myself list the tasks and then prioritize them a couple of ways -in order of easiest to accomplish, most pressing, etc. And, me being me, I’d have myself keep a record of what I did, how I felt and what I thought while doing it, and how I felt/thought after it was over. Yeah, folks, I really use this stuff myself, too 🙂

So…I guess with these things in mind, here I go…wish me well 🙂

This is also posted on “The Other Side of the Couch,” my more professionally oriented blog.

My son, Aidan, is autistic. We began to suspect that something was wrong when Aidan didn’t start to walk on time, like other kids. He eventually did walk, at 16 months, and our doctors told us, “Don’t worry, he’s fine.” Now to any other parent, that might sound reassuring – but to me it was extremely frustrating, because I KNEW something wasn’t right. I have the advantage of doctoral training in counseling psychology; one of the many things we learn is how to recognize, assess, and treat developmental disorders in children. And yes, autism is one of those disorders. So, I had an “in” when I started recognizing symptoms.

Aidan is a little different in that he never really regressed, as many children with autism do. Aidan simply stopped. At about 18 months, he had tubes put in his ears for chronic ear infections – we had hoped that he would start catching up when he stopped being sick so much of the time. His second birthday came and went, and he was still delayed. He had trouble eating independently, and didn’t like to be hugged as much as I would have liked to hug him…so, although there were some “red flags,” they weren’t flying high enough to really warrant a lot of attention. Still, at his checkups, I brought up the possibility of autism with our family doctor. Her advice was to “wait and see.”

One thing I should tell you is that I have a really, REALLY good working relationship with my family doctor. She is an incredible, amazing woman that I trust. More importantly, she listened to me and considered my concerns. Again, though – I had an “in” because of my training, and I’m sure that helped.

Aidan’s sister was born a few months after his second birthday, and Aidan didn’t react to her at all in the way you’d expect a toddler to react to a new intruder. He simply didn’t care and actually acted as though she simply didn’t exist. Unlike most toddlers, he wasn’t curious and he wasn’t jealous. He simply…was. Again, I was concerned – after all, I knew what to look for.

Aidan’s 3rd birthday came and went, and he was pretty clearly not meeting the developmental milestones. I’d been keeping track of these since I’d first noticed difficulties early on – and, as I mentioned earlier, he simply “stopped.” He wa stuck at about 2 to 2 1/2 years old. Our doctor listened to my concerns, and again we give it a few more months just to wait and see. Ok…so we did.

At three and half years, she saw him again – she’d wanted to assess his development specificially withing the few months between visits to see if there were any changes. There weren’t…he as still “stuck” in the two year old phase.

Now if any you know, have been around, or have children at this age, you KNOW what fun I’m talking about. Learning the power of “no” is huge at this age – now imagine getting stuck there, and dealing with it for over two and half years. Potty training – the same. Stuck at early two.

After this visit, our doctor decided that it would be a good thing to run a complete evaluation – ironically enough, she recommended my training clinic as the best place to do this. I KNEW what the outcome of the evaluation would be – after all, I’d been tracking symptoms and such for 2 1/2 years. So, off we went to CSU for the evaluation. I remember telling therapist (who again ironically enough was in the same exact position I’d been in three years before) that I thought Aidan had autism and oppositional defiance disorder (ODD; essentially disobeying for the sheer idea of disobeying and argumentation.) She said, “Well, let’s do the tests and we’ll see.”

Guess what? Amazingly enough…he was diagnosed with mild-moderate autism and oppositional defiance disorder. Here’s the thing – even when you’re prepared, even when you know what’s coming – hearing it is a shock. No parent ever wants to hear that there is something wrong with their child. I’d been through this before when my oldest was diagnosed with ADHD. I thought I was prepared.

And on the way home, with Aidan babbling in the back seat of the care, I cried. Partially out of relief – here was the evidence for what I’d known for years – and partially out of a profound grief. There was something very wrong with my baby.

From this point, we entered the world of “services” and “therapy.” I have to say that I’m eternally grateful to the local hospital and therapists – their work in speech and occupational therapy worked wonders. It’s expensive and I’m also glad we had insurance that covered it. AND, I thought about what life would be like if we didn’t have these advantages.

Today, Aidan speaks relatively close to his age group – he’s about 1 year behind. His motor coordination is better, and he interacts with people much more often and appropriately. I thank God every day for that. He has improved immensely, also in part due to the wonderful Head Start program – he had a wonderful classroom staff and was thrilled to be a “big kid” and go to school. He hugs, kisses, shows affection, interacts and even initiates play with other kids – all of these are miracles I’ll never take for granted again.

There are things about Aidan, though, that are noticeably different. He tends to speak in a monotone that sounds intense or pressured – there isn’t much emotion or inflection in his words. He looks a little different too – there is just something about him that seems a little “off.” He’s fascinated with things no other child I know of has ever even noticed: power poles and lines, “red balls,” train tracks (not the trains – the tracks) and signs. One more thing – heaven help me…I’m STILL changing diapers. (Changing poopy diapers for a 5 1/2 year old is NOT fun, either!)

His little sister speaks more clearly and in a more complex manner than he does, and she’s potty-trained now. She’s teaching him some things with language, interacting, and normal pre-school stuff that he needs and can really only get by interacting. He’ll be in a regular kindergarten next year, and I’m worried for him.

We all know how kids treat other kids who are different and how early it starts. My prayer for the other children and for Aidan is that, somehow, they can overcome the differences and help each other.

1. I have an artist’s book, limited edition, that was bought and exhibited in the University of Washington’s library – special collections. I also know how to set type and run a printing press!

2. I have a 16 year age difference between my oldest and youngest children – and I have the oldest and youngest of the 14 grandkids on my side of the family. And I have only three kids!!

3. I definitely have a wild side – something not many people know about , something I keep mostly hidden.  Ask me and I’ll tell you more – maybe.

4. When I was a kid, I “mummified” one of my Barbie dolls – I wanted to be an archaeologist and decided that Barbie would make a great mummy. I wrapped Barbie in torn up strips of old cotton diapers, and put little “treasures” (Barbie’s jewelry) into the wrappings. I built her a “tomb” out of a shoebox and lined it with aluminum foil. Yes, I WAS a weird kid! (It was a 6th grade research project – I got the highest grade in the class.)

5. I still dance in my living room to music when no one is looking or can see, except my little kids. I sing to the radio too, when my Aidan lets me (“Don’t sing, Mommy! My ears hurt!” <sigh> ). Someday, I want to dance and sing with them on the beach! I also like the very sappy, slow love songs and am a total mush and romantic.

6. Although I am pretty shy and quiet in real life, online I’m a chatterbox and am very outgoing. This is sometimes weird for me, because I still see myself as being the wallflower that no one wants to talk to, and I’m always surprised when someone tells me how outgoing I am.

Saga of the energy vampire…AKA, the H-bomb in a kid suit
Current mood: Beyond pooped

Have you ever noticed that, when you are at your most exhausted, your kids are at their most hyper-active? Honestly…

Let me preface this by saying that I love my kids with all my heart and would give my life for them in a heartbeat. That said, *ay carumba*!!! Aidan was a small H-bomb in a kid suit today! He likes to start his day by waking up his little sister, usually by bouncing on her bed (and her, if he can get away with it) until she wakes up – today was no exception.

The difference today was that Becky-buns seems to be coming down with the crud that’s going around and was sleeping with Mama. So, I became the trampoline. Now, if you have trouble waking up in the morning (like I do), there is nothing like having 40 lbs. of jumping preschooler land right on your soft belly to wake you up out a peaceful dream. And I was dreaming that I had won a shopping spree! Sigh…

His next adventure was to climb over the baby gate blocking the main floor bathroom – I’m feeding the baby (who is busily spitting carrots on her hands and then running them through her hair in an attempt to look like a miniature Lucille Ball) when I hear a suspicious splash-flush-splash… “Aidan, get your cup out of the toilet – NOW!” (Followed by more splash-flush-splashes)…Sigh…Fish screaming preschooler out of bathroom, clean him up and cover his hands with sanitizing gel, put on gloves and fish floating sippy cup out of toilet, immerse sippy in pot of boiling water before deciding to throw it away, haul wailing and now VERY WET preschooler out of the bathroom AGAIN, put gate 6 inches higher, and turn off water in sink.  Return to find more carrots ON baby than IN baby, note that baby managed to untie bib and cover clothes. Bathtime…

Okay, so I wipe off as much of the carrots off as possible, strip the baby and cover the NEW dress in Shout, Clorox-2, and detergent…  I turn around to hear a mysterious banging…”Aidan, don’t climb in the dryer – you could get hurt and that would make Mama really sad…” (Long pause as impatient and wiggly baby kicks Mama in stomach – put baby in crib to check on preschooler – yell to be heard over baby’s LOUD protests) “Aidan – out of the dryer NOW!”  

So now I’m getting the bath started…get the baby in, wash out the carrots, start soaping…” What the HE**?!? Aidan, turn off that shower now! That water’s cold!!”  Aidan has just discovered that he can pull down the showerhead (a Waterpik with a nice long bendable cord), turn on the water and spray his unsuspecting mother…with ice cold water, of course. 

Next up – find clean changes of clothes for everyone and hope there is something clean for me outside of Laundry Mountain (which is beginning to resemble a whole mountain range…Sigh…) 

Other quotes of the day: “Aidan, get off of the oven!” (climbing on the opened oven door trying reach the cabinet above the stove where the treats are stored –  is this kid half monkey?? Sigh…run out to store, find and intall oven lock – on oven AND refrigerator). I’ve TRIED to kid-proof the house – honestly. We’ve got cabinet locks, outlet plugs, baby gates, door-knob covers, you name it, we’ve got it. And it looks like we’ll have to get more. This kid is ingenious when it comes to climbing – he’s tried things I’ve never even thought of. Now if he can just channel that ingenuity and energy…”

Becca, you need a bath again?” (after a diaper blowout of truly epic proportions), “Aidan, we do NOT hit sister on the head with toys.” “Aidan, sister is NOT target practice.” And so on and on and on…

The most important moments were not like these, though. They went more like, “Aidan, I love you so much. I’m so glad you come to cuddle with me. Big hug!” (during sister’s nap – we both sit and cuddle on the recliner and watch a Sesame Street video). “Aidan, thank you for getting Becca’s binky. You are such a good helper!”

There are times when I look at him, and just want to squeeze the stuffing out of that kid – he can be so darn cute!! And Becca – watching her learn walking, talking, everything about her world: “Wow – you went across the room all by yourself! What a strong girl!! I’m so proud of you!” followed by Aidan’s “Sister good job? Aidan good job!” and a big hug with both of them. And now, he’s next to me in bed, snoring away and looking for all the world like a little angel (of course, as I type this, he lets loose with a sound from his nether regions that would rival a Harley “Hog” in heat…) Man, I love this little kid…

And the big kid has his own dramas, too – Captain Obvious has a date for prom! (Am I really old enough to have a kid old enough for prom? YIKES!  Where did the time go – I remember changing HIS diapers.) I remember him as a toddler – the classic moment being in the grocery store. He loved to have me blow raspberries on his belly – so we’re in line at the grocery store, he lifts his shirt and yells at the top of his little lungs, “Blow me, Mommy!” Every head around me turns and stares at me – I wanted to sink through the floor, but tried to explain – “Raspberries on his tummy – see? (Picture me in line, demonstrating blowing raspberries on his tummy and managing to look like a COMPLETE idiot…) Ah, those were the days…

Will I look back on these days with Aidan and Becca with as much, uh…”mirth”? Actually, I know I will. I’ll smile and miss their little smiles, hugs, and boundless energy.

Yikes…ever notice how busy-ness can creep up on you? I’ve just finished two weeks of having *something* going on every night, and I’m exhausted. I mean, tired to the bone, walking-and-waking-dead pooped. And the fatigue is not just physical – it’s emotional and cognitive. Busy-ness, although marginally productive in the traditional sense, sucks the life out of me. I’ve figured out that I’m the kind of person who needs “me time” – alone, with no kids, no husband, no friends. It’s not that I don’t want to be around these people – they are the most important people in my life, and I love and care for them. However, after data collection/research, peer counseling training, nursery work, meetings, running kids everywhere, there’s just not much left to give. So…

Tonight I’m on strike. I’ve been invited to a scrapbooking event, which I’d normally enjoy for the social contact and the creativity boost, even though I don’t “scrapbook” in a traditional sense – too cutesy for me. I said “no.” It was hard for me to do, as I’m not the most assertive person in the world, especially when it comes to taking care of me. In our last peer counseling class, we covered assertiveness, and I kept thinking, “I need to do more of this – with everyone.” So, I told my friends that I appreciated the invite, but that I was very tired and would not be able to make it. I feel kind of bad, because I missed the last one, too – my in-laws came into town that night – but I need to care for me.

So, why is it that I feel bad/selfish for doing so? Well…”selfish” was the label of choice my mother slung at me whenver I insisted on caring for myself. If I didn’t do what she wanted when she wanted and how she wanted it, I was “selfish” and “bad.” Unfortunately, I’ve internalized that and now think it every time I insist on caring for myself. I figure that I at least recognize it now and can counter the message with some positive thinking. (Thank you, cognitive-behavioral therapy!) So now, I tell myself, “You are human, too. You have needs and desires, just like any other human being, and it’s NOT wrong to consider yourself. It’s not wrong to value yourself, or think that you’re worthy of care.”

Women in general seem to suffer from the burden of busy-ness in our society. If we’re not huge successes in business, we feel pressured to be the perfect stay-at-home mother, with immaculate houses, perfectly clean and dressed children, with several clever crafts on hand to keep them busy while we make dinner, bake bread, sew their adorable, fashionable, little clothes, and plan the PTA bake sale. All this while managing the local girl/boy scout troop, carpooling the little darlings to soccer/baseball/gymnastics/cheerleading, and reading up on developmental milestones and how to help your children be better than anyone else’s. BLECH!  All this emphasis on being the perfect professional woman, perfect employee, perfect mother, perfect wife/partner…it’s busy-ness in another form and is life-draining, not life-sustaining. Sustainable living should take into account, in my not-so-humble-opinion, emotional and mental elements as well as physical.

I confess – my house is a mess. In fact, I’m lucky it hasn’t been condemned. Laundry Mountain continues to grow, even while I excavate small loads. I’ll have to strip-mine it soon. Iron? That’s a vitamin, right? (Oh yeah…there is that appliance-thingy gathering dust in the closet.) Dinners come from the microwave (except when the in-laws visit – that’s when I really feel the pressure to be perfect and actually cook.) My kids sometimes wear the same clothes two days in a row…and yeah, they come from Wal-mart. (No, not Children’s Place, Baby Gap, or Macy’s.) So do mine – I don’t make money staying with the little kidlets. There is no homemade baked bread (at least not on a regular basis – I make it when I have time, feel like it and want it.) Developmentally-geared and cutesy crafts? Forget it…more like a coloring book and crayons (at least those that haven’t  been eaten or stomped to smithereens…) 

But you know what? Perfection is no longer any of my “busy-ness.” I’m not perfect, and I never will be. Yet, somehow my children are happy – and they are generally clean (at least as clean as a toddler and pre-schooler can be.) Aidan and I played “Balloon Catch” today – he was all smiles and giggles. Rebecca got in on it, and we played “Monkey in the Middle.” They are growing, they get fed (even if it isn’t homemade,organic, and fresh-grown/picked/juiced) and they seem happy. They come up to cuddle with me, they ask for Mama and they give me hugs and kisses. And, I’m happy – generally. When I let busy-ness take over, that’s when I’m not happy. And including “me-time” is not just respectful to myself, it’s necessary for my to function.

So, what’s the point of yet another rant? Ladies, we don’t have to be perfect. In the business world…we do our best, but we can’t do our best if we’re killing ourselves in the process. At home…we do our best, and somehow our families survive. I’d much rather have a happy, well-adjusted me and a happy, well-adjusted family than a perfect house, etc.  Taking time for ourselves is not only good, it’s necessary. Even if we veg out watching “Desperate Housewives” or “Lost” while eating Ben & Jerry’s (or, my favorite: a bowl of ice-cold melon, mandarin oranges and grapes – YUM), taking time to decompress is necessary to maintain our sanity. We are so good at helping others, at succeeding, at living up to everyone else’s expectations – isn’t time we develop our own?

For what it’s worth, I’m not talking about the hundreds of self-help/self-improvement “programs” or books – read/use them if they nurture and help you. But if you find yourself feeling a load of shoulds descending on you, ask yourself, “Is this really helping me? Is this really going to help me BE me?”  (Think of Albert Ellis’s comment, “Don’t ‘should’ on yourself.” ) Someone else’s idea of what is good may or may not fit – use your sense of what you need to help you out here. In therapy with my clients, I tell them to listen to their inner therapists – the part of you inside that wants you to be happy, fulfilled, and has your best interests at heart. Even that part of you has been called bad, selfish, unworthy, or anything else negative – it’s part of who you are. Now if I can just take my own advice…

Some of my favorite website resources: (These may or may not inspire you; I don’t leave these sites feeling like I’ve got a case of the “shoulds.”)

Jennifer Louden’s “Comfort Queen” material (http://www.comfortqueen.com/),

SARK’s material (http://www.planetsark.com/) – she has an excellent piece this month on treasuring girls

Small Steps to Health – the source of those commercials where people find “lost” body parts, such as double chins, “love handles,” “spare tires,” etc: (http://www.smallstep.gov/index.html)

The Foundation for a Better Life – inspiring source of billboards, posters, and other public messages that are life-affirming: (http://www.forbetterlife.org/)

For the Little Ones Inside – an affirming site: (http://www.forthelittleonesinside.com/)

The Spiral Muse – for women’s well-being: (http://www.spiralmuse.org/)

Creativity for Life – to help get you inspired, fired-up, and ready to live life: (http://www.creativityforlife.com/index.php)

Another Girl At Play – Women artists’ biographies and links: (http://another.girlatplay.com/)

So…play, enjoy, let go of perfection, just be. It’s okay – it really is. (or so I keep telling myself. )

As 2008 draws to a close, I (like everyone else and their brother, sister, mother, etc.) turn my thoughts to the events that occurred during the last year. There were the things that affect us all, like the crash of our economy, the election of our first African-American President, and the continuing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – these things have changed our lives, and the lives of so many people world-wide. There is so much we still have to accomplish: Fairness to all, regardless of race, sex, sexual orientation, economic class, etc.; achieving some measure of peace – CAN that ever happen, given that human nature is basically territorial and competitive?

I believe it can – if we all work toward it. The events in my life this year are a testament to that process. During this last year, in spite of a pretty rocky relationship with my mother, we went on a trip together and not only got along but were able to explore new areas, bond, and have fun.

I also made contact – as of yesterday, ironically enough – with an uncle my family has not spoken to for 25 years. I don’t even know or remember what started the feud, but my mother intensely dislikes her brother and I imagine the feeling is the same for him toward her. I don’t know, though, really. I finally decided that I’d had enough and that it was time that SOMEONE ended the standoff. Even if my mother and he never speak again, I wanted to know him and find out about his life. I’m glad I did, too. I found out that his wife of over 45 years had died, that he had met someone in the years following her death, and that they are engaged. I’m thrilled that he has found happiness again, and I’m even more thrilled that he didn’t hang up on me when he realized who I was. We have exchanged an email, and sent pictures.

The point here is that someone has to make the first move. In the field of psychology there is a whole body of literature regarding conflict resolution, creating peace, and healing from violence…from what I remember, it boils down to being willing to talk AND to listen – on both sides. Although my conversation with my uncle was short, I was willing to listen and not judge. And to be fair, I let my mother know I had contacted him, and was willing to listen to her hurt. It was not easy, but again, I’m glad I did it. Peace, whether individual or global can ONLY happen when we are willing to be open, to talk, and to listen, regardless of whether we agree or disagree. I’m an idealist – I still believe it’s possible, and try through my words and actions to live in a way that promotes peace.

Another large change involved my son, Aidan. He went through another diagnostic evaluation and was placed in special education for his autism – in spite of my clinical training, this was a challenge for me as a parent. It’s much easier to deny the truth and blame someone else that it is to accept and deal with things. Again, this relates to peace-building, because sometimes we have to be open to hearing and accepting things we don’t want. It’s not easy – I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t devastated by the diagnosis. I didn’t want to hear that my precious child had a fairly severe developmental disorder – what parent EVER wants to hear negative things about their child? Yet, in accepting and working with this, I am helping him. His preschool, composed of 15 children similar to him, has been a God-send and he is making great progress.

Aidan on his 5th birthday - Oct 7 2008

Aidan on his 5th birthday - Oct 7 2008

In my world, I also accomplished a long-standing goal of earning my Ph.D. My degree is in Counseling Psychology, and my next step is to find work. In this economy, that will likely be difficult because I am hoping to work in community mental health and many agencies have had their budgets cut. Even so, I hope. I believe that working in this area will also further peace, albeit in rather non-obvious way. People can’t work toward these higher goals, such as peace and understanding, when they can’t meet their own basic needs – food, shelter and health. Mental health has been traditionally underemphasized in our culture, and I want to work with those who may not be able to afford the care they need. Again, though – living and working our values is a key component here. I believe that my work in this area will further my goals for creating peace, because I will be working toward building a community where people’s needs are able to be met. Yes…I really AM idealistic! 🙂

And an even more realistic hope…that we can live in a community where our diverse values, beliefs, cultures, and appearances can be accepted. Unfortunately, this is more idealistic than I’d hope, because we still live in world, a country and a culture where “jokes” that point out differences are still common and where exclusion is still practiced, even if in a more subtle way. Our election of Barack Obama, whether or not you agree with his politics, does point to the progres we as a society have made – even 10-15 years ago, the election of an African American to the highest office in this country was a fantasy. This year – no matter who won the election – we would have made history. That alone gives me hope.

So, as we close this year and wonder what the next will bring, my hope is that we will continue our movement toward peace and toward a more unified, diverse, sensitive, and caring culture. As a friend of mine put it, this is all a process and doesn’t happen overnight. I don’t know about you, but I’m looking forward to working that process, and to making the next year even more groundbreaking and hopeful.

Reflections of Reflections…

Other Facets of the Mirror