Rough Seas Ahead

I have been working with a certain client for a few years now. For simplicity, let’s call her Sarah (not her real name). Sarah is debating a common issue: what to do with a loveless marriage. Since divorce is no longer taboo these days, more women are considering it as an option than ever before. There are still women like Sarah, who believe that marriage is for “forever,” but at what cost?

I have to say something straight-up: I am not an advocate for divorce. Many couples still have a strong foundation that the rest can be supported upon and fixed. In my practice, it is always my intention to help two people salvage their marriage if both are willing to work at it. That being said, I am also not an advocate for the stagnation and lack of self-care that can come about when two people really don’t need to be together.

Sarah has only recently included divorce as an option for herself. She’s been married almost 20 years and has two children with her husband, Bryan (not his real name). She has cited history, children, not wanting to “fail” and not wanting to hurt “anyone” as her reasons for staying. She has not really loved Bryan for 2 or 3 years now, and they have grown apart, each focused on paths that don’t intersect any longer. Bryan is a good man; he is not abusive or adulterous. He is also not present in the relationship until Sarah brings up her discontent (usually after Bryan asks for sex). Then, he may focus more on the marriage for a week or two. But Sarah always ends up in the same place: alone, despite another person being there.

Bryan and Sarah have gone to couples counseling a few times and their therapist tells me that she doesn’t see much of a foundation there. Because I agree, I have been questioning Sarah about what her life would look like if she could wave a magic wand. Her magical world doesn’t involve Bryan.

This issue all boils down, as most issues do, to Self-Care. We all know that life is short, so why would we stay in an unhappy situation for one minute longer than we have to? Because we think we “have to!” Should Sarah decide to separate from Bryan, there will be some rough times. If she stays focused on her own needs and doesn’t try to own Bryan’s or the kids’ reactions, she will come through it in a healthy manner, being honest and open with her family.

Because women are raised in a society that teaches us to nurture at the expense of ourselves, the notion of doing what is best for us sometimes is very scary! But as Sarah and Bryan’s couples therapist said, “She needs to put on her big girl panties and do the ethical – and honest – thing for herself.”

What are some things in your life that you’re maintaining the status quo with because you can’t imagine another option? Are there really no other choices or are the other choices just things that you can’t imagine doing? If you don’t change your situation, how do you think this will affect you in the next year, 5 years, 10 years?

Sometimes, we have to weather the storm to get to calm, peaceful seas. Namaste.

at sea

An Unstoppable Spirit: Paula Sims Turns 55 in Prison

By Diane Sanford, PhD

This post is in honor of my friend, Paula Sims, who’s been incarcerated for the past 20+ years following the deaths of her two daughters due to postpartum psychosis. In spite of serving so much time in prison and countless denials of her appeal for clemency, her spirit remains strong and resilient. She inspires me to be a better person because she continues to rise above her circumstances every day of her life. What follows is part of a letter I received from her this past week.

“Yesterday was Summer Solstice, the first day of summer and the longest day of the year. In many cultures, it is a day of celebration. So, a few of my friends and I celebrated the radiance of summer by giving extra thanks for the sun and its life giving warmth of our planet. Plus, we honored the beauty of creation by enjoying it by going outside to the “Yard,” walked in the grass and simply sat in the sun at a picnic table and socialized. Also, I enjoyed the fresh air, basking in the warmth of the sun, and marveling at the beauty of the day. We always revel in the bounty of creation and are thankful for all our blessings.

I continue to keep real busy with my ADA (service dogs) attendant job, Toastmasters, etc. I had a great 55th birthday a month ago, and my room-mates and several friends down the hall showered me with cards, gifts and sang “Happy Birthday” to me:). On the unit, my room-mates and friends had a party with good food and fellowship. My brother, Aunt and Uncle, were able to visit for 4 hours. We had a super time and they’re fine. They plan to visit again around my brother’s birthday in August.

I’ve got more “great news.” On June 10th, I completed my goal of doing 10 speeches in Toastmaster’s which I’d been working on since April 2, 2013. My 10th speech, “Don’t Give Up” based on a story about how the great Russian writer, Alexander Solzenheitzen, overcame his prison experience, led to my winning “Best Speaker of the Night.” This story has inspired me for years. I hoped it would inspire my audience and I believe it did. Also, I shared one of my many dreams as a young girl, to become an artist. At the end of my speech, I showed a few of my drawings.

Drawing by Paula Sims

Drawing by Paula Sims

Now, that I’m a certified public speaker on Toastmaster’s International website, I hoped to get some speaking engagements to share my story about my daughters and my postpartum psychosis, bringing more awareness to PPD/PPP, and helping to save lives. But until that happens, I’ll keep working on being and advanced speaker at our weekly meetings! I’ll keep you posted. Okay?”

Paula concludes her letter by asking me to send a birthday to Andrea Yates who turned 50 recently.

I believe that we can all learn from Paula, her strength, her generosity and her gratitude for the gift of life. Happy birthday, friend.

Namaste.

I Cannot Be This Person

In honor of National PTSD Awareness Day, please read this brave Marine’s story below:

***NOT FOR RESALE OR DISTRIBUTION*** Laura Hendrixson, 29, a former marine that was raped in the military and suffers from PTSD, alone at home and with her husband Craig, 30, in San Diego, Ca. on July 20, 2013. Laura was a US Marine, stationed South Carolina (or somewhere in the south) when she was sexually assaulted by "friend" – someone in whom she had recently confided some deeply personal information.  This was traumatic enough but the way the military handled it compounded the problem.  She was confined to barracks - to the same barracks as her attacker.  She was told to wear baggy sweats so as not to attract men.  She had to continue working with her attacker.  She was denied promotions and labeled a trouble maker for having reported the incident.  She became a pariah.   The result was that she left the military deeply afraid of the world, unable to do much – she rarely went out, was afraid to sleep with the light on, or take a shower, etc.  Therapy has helped her a lot.  She is still pretty timid but she now holds a job and is working toward a college degree.  She is married and has a Chihuahua.  She is getting better at doing the little things.   Shooting her will be a bit tough.  She doesn’t do a whole lot.  She doesn’t want us to shoot her at work.  I’m thinking that we’ll shoot a lot of details of her home – the showerhead dripping, lights on the ceiling, etc. to represent the stuff she could not do.  We’ll also shoot her studying and may go with her to San Diego State University where she is a student.Finding it hard to be home alone or feel comfortable in public places, Marine and MST survivor Laura Hendrixon is determined to get better for her family.

Laura Hendrixon had always thought PTSD came only after combat exposure–until it happened to her. “After being in the Marines for a year and a half, I was sexually assaulted by another Marine who was also a co-worker and a friend of mine,” she said. “It’s embarrassing to talk about, but I don’t want to be scared anymore. I want to be stronger.”

The trauma affected her so much that she was afraid to take a shower when she was home alone. “…I would basically be in panic mode the whole time,” she said. “I would think…”Oh my gosh, I want to get a shower, but I can’t get a shower because I’m home by myself, and if I’m in the shower, I’m not going to be able to hear if somebody comes in the house.” I would get scared to the point that I wouldn’t close my eyes when I’m taking a shower.”

Laura was diagnosed with PTSD. Her doctor at VA suggested she get into treatment. “I finally had a doctor point out to me that, you know, it would be really good if I went through this treatment,” she recalled. “I knew I needed to do it because I can’t wait to have kids, and I was like, “I cannot be this person with kids. I’m going to, like, wrap them up in bubble wrap.”

Laura’s treatment at VA was a form of talk therapy called Prolonged Exposure (PE). In PE, the goal is for the patient to have less fear about her memories. It is based on the idea that people learn to fear thoughts, feelings, and situations that remind them of a past traumatic event. By talking about her trauma repeatedly in a safe environment with a therapist, the patient learns to get control of her thoughts and feelings about the trauma. She learns that she does not have to be afraid of her memories.

“I made a list of things I needed to be able to do: make left-hand turns, ride in an elevator, go somewhere by myself, get showers. It’s like, I need to learn how to deal with this stuff, now,” she explained. “It was very difficult at first. I had to go back to that moment and, you know, describe exactly how I felt, and emotions and fears, and everything about the moment. It did get easier. You actually record yourself, and then you listen to it, so in some way it tricks your brain into accepting that this did happen to me and, you know, I’m going to be OK, and it’s going to get better.”

Laura also credits her husband for much of the progress she has made. “My husband is a lifesaver,” she said. “We’re going to counseling together, and they’re helping us talk through some of the daily struggles that I have with PTSD. He’s so good for me; he encourages me to do things I’m not comfortable with. I definitely plan to keep moving forward with it. I’m always thinking, like, “Just do it!” I can do all kinds of stuff.”

You can see the entire AboutFace video profile of Laura Hendrixon on YouTube.

For more information on PTSD and ways to raise awareness of this mental health problem during June and throughout the year, professionals and members of the public can visit our PTSD Awareness page.

I’m Free! Free Falling!

Well, I must say I am going back and forth with my Self-care at the moment. I have a lot of work coming in and coming due, which is a good problem to have! I found a great app called 30/30 that lets me set blocks of time for work and breaks. And then there’s the day I went skydiving.

Yep. You heard me. I faced my long-standing fear and jumped out of an airplane at 14,000 feet, falling at 125mph breakneck toward the ground. And, as most things we fear, the anticipation and “what if” thoughts were WAY worse than the thing itself!

Phil, my tandem instructor, and me

Phil, my tandem instructor, and me

I thought I would go when I turned 40, almost 3 years ago. Nope. Chickened out. So, when a friend of mine got accepted into the Police Academy (with a full ride scholarship), something she’s wanted her whole life, I told her to pick something to do…my treat. I knew she didn’t drink or like to go to clubs, so I figured maybe a nice movie or dinner at a nicer place. Nope. Wrong again! SKYDIVING, she said.

Suited up!

Suited up!

I panicked at first, but then thought that there was no better time to do this – she had been a few times already and liked the place that we went. I got brave and said, “JUST DO IT!”

And I’m so glad I did! I was terrified at the open door of the plane, looking out, but Phil, who was tightly strapped to me, wasn’t going to let me stand in the way of my goal. He pushed forward and I was falling! I only had that yucky-stomach falling feeling for 2 or 3 seconds, then it was like I was on top of a giant fan! After we pulled the canopy, all of Nature’s beauty was sprawled out in front of us to enjoy. The fall only took about 60 seconds, but it seemed longer because I was so in the moment.

logo100I highly recommend this activity, as long as the place you go has qualified, knowledgeable instructors and and outstanding safety record. We visited Westside Skydivers in Sealy, TX, which is about an hour’s drive. There were closer places, but my friend had experience with Westside, so I didn’t mind the drive. My instructors, Bob and Phil, and my cameraman, Nate, were all wonderful and knew how to put me at ease! Thanks, guys! And yes, I’m going again!!

PTSD: It’s NOT a Shame

As Diane has mentioned, June is PTSD Awareness Month.  In 2010, Congress named June 27th PTSD Awareness Day (S. Res. 455). Since then, during the month of June, The National Center for PTSD asks that the issue of PTSD be discussed openly and without judgment, in the hopes of reducing stigma.

Anyone who has dealt with mental illness either directly or indirectly knows that, indeed, not all wounds are visible…or measurable, for that matter. No, there’s no blood test to measure levels of depression, anxiety or trauma. Many people look “just fine” on the outside, while they are suffering greatly on the inside.

Trauma is not the same for everyone. Many people think of Veterans when they hear the term PTSD. While Vets surely are a group that’s at greater risk, anyone can develop Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. And what traumatizes one person may not affect another. In fact, traumatic events don’t have to be “catastrophic” to cause this reaction! Losing a pet, having your child get off at the wrong bus stop, car accidents and other “everyday” events can cause traumatic reactions in some people.

On September 13, 2008, Hurricane Ike came through my neck of the woods. Since it was “only” a Category 2 storm, we decided to ride it out. I took a sleeping pill that night and had no clue if it was scary or not – I was asleep! However, the next day, I fell apart as we drove around looking at the damage the storm left in its wake. We lost our back fence – we were lucky that it wasn’t worse. But until recently, any time the power went out at my house, I would instantly panic. So, it wasn’t the catastrophic hurricane that caused the traumatic reaction – it was the loss of electricity that became my trigger!

PTSD symptoms – anxiety, panic, sudden anger, nightmares, flashbacks – can be caused by just about anything and is the brain’s natural response to protect your psyche from pain. They are also signals that you need to process the event, no matter how “small” you perceive it to be!

PTSD is NOT a shame…it’s an opportunity to get help and come out on the other side a healthier, happier and more resilient person! To find therapists who specialize in PTSD in your area, visit psychologytoday.com‘s therapist list. For more information on PTSD, visit The National Center for PTSD.

“Climb Out of Darkness” to Reduce Stigma of Mental Health

By Diane Sanford, PhD

Last week, I blogged about “Teens Tackle Depression Stigma,” and what two Michigan teens are doing to reduce stigma about what I call “emotional health” conditions (depression, anxiety, addiction, bi-polar, eating disorders, etc). Click here to view the post.

This week I want to mention two events that are occurring in June also aimed at reducing stigma. The first is “Climb Out of Darkness,” sponsored by Postpartum Progress.  This event, started by Katherine Stone, focusses on raising awareness and diminishing the stigma associated with “emotional health” conditions affecting pregnant and postpartum moms.

“Climb Out of the Darkness is the world’s largest event raising awareness of postpartum depression, anxiety, PTSD, psychosis and pregnancy depression. The event was created by and benefits Postpartum Progress Inc., a registered 501c3 nonprofit organization that raises awareness and supports pregnant and new moms with these illnesses.” Click here to learn more about it, find a climb near you, and register.

The other event , “KNOCKOUT STIGMA,” offers St. Louisans a fun, interactive platform to raise awareness about mental illness, one of the most unrelenting human diseases. While raising awareness to combat the negative effect of STIGMA, this event will connect our community to the worthwhile work of Independence Center. Held at The Title Boxing Club in Rock Hill, participants will enjoy a fun one-hour workshop while benefitting a good cause. Click here for more info.

DID YOU KNOW? One in five people worldwide have a “mental” disorder at some point in their lives. Over 450 million people currently suffer from such conditions, placing mental illness among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.Treatment works, but nearly two-thirds of people with a known mental illness never seek help from a licensed professional. STIGMA, DISCRIMINATION and NEGLECT prevent care and treatment from reaching people with mental illnesses. (World Health Organization Report, October 2001)

While we’re making progress in reducing stigma, there’s still to do. Please help support these events, and those you know with “emotional health” conditions.

Namaste.

 

Teens Tackle Depression Stigma

By Diane Sanford, PhD

A month ago, one of my colleagues mentioned that her daughter had an article which was about to run in a very important publication. She said she couldn’t tell me where yet, but sent me a link just before Memorial Day to her daughter, Madeline’s piece with the other co-editor of their high school paper, Eva, which was published in The New York Times.

If you haven’t seen this already, click on this link-http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/22/opinion/depressed-but-not-ashamed.html?ref=opinion&_r=0. Until more of us speak up about our personal experiences and encourage our family and friends to do the same, we support the conspiracy of silence which contributes to people of all ages and stages of life with “mental illness” including depression, anxiety, bi-polar disorder, addictions and eating disorders feeling alone, isolated and flawed. The word alone makes you feel bad

As I tell my clients, no family is untouched by “mental illness.” Everyone has emotional health vulnerabilities inherited from their gene pool,  and under the right circumstances, they develop into clinical conditions. In my family, several generations have experienced clinical depression and anxiety, and I experienced some mild depression following the birth of my first child.

In fact, women often  experience clinical episode during times of hormonal and major life changes-puberty, pregnancy, postpartum and menopause. To encourage childbearing women to say something and not “suffer in silence, ” when experiencing postpartum depression, New Jersey created their “Speak Up When You’re Down” campaign. For more info on this program, click on this link-http://www.state.nj.us/health/fhs/postpartumdepression/pdf/PPD-brochure.pdf. Or, visit Katherine Stone at Postpartum Progress and find a Climb to help support your recovery.

To hear more about Madeline and Eva’s editorial and the story behind the editorial, listen to their NPR interview by clicking here- http://www.npr.org/2014/05/24/315445104/students-struggle-with-depression-and-with-telling-the-story

And, let your voice be heard. Namaste