Dealing with Loss During the Holidays

The subject of death has popped up once again this holiday season. My husband’s aunt is very ill and is not expected to make it much longer. His grandmother passed away a few years ago in December. My good friend’s mother passed away ON Christmas Day several years ago. It seems like LOTS of people in my orbit have lost loved ones during the holidays, and it tends to put a wet blanket on this time of good cheer.

I was so curious about what seems like a trend, I looked up some statistics. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the highest death rates in the US occur in the months of December, January and March. Common sense and a bit of research tells me that suicide rates are higher during the winter months and people do tend to come down with illnesses more frequently because we are all inside together to keep warm. Because of this, bacteria and viruses spread easily (which is why it is important to wash your hands frequently). And if someone is already ill with a disease such as cancer, opportunistic infections are more easily caught because that person is exposed to more people who may be sick (and not even know it yet).

Even if your lost loved one didn’t pass away during the holidays, the season can be tough because that person is simply no longer in your life. This is especially hard if you have lost a close family member or friend who would have normally celebrated the season with you. His or her absence can seem to fill the room.

It’s human to miss those we’ve lost. However, we don’t have to let our grief ruin the joy of the present. If you’re feeling down or depressed thinking about someone you’ve lost, try some of these techniques/coping tools:

  • Vividly imagine a good moment with the person you’ve lost. Notice the sights, smells, temperature, and good feelings of that past moment. When you’re filled with those good feelings, bring your attention back to the present and bring those positive emotions with you. I’d guess that your loved one would want you to feel good this season!
  • Honor the life of your lost loved one in some way. Make an ornament in his/her honor to hang on your tree. Write a card to that person, telling him/her what positive things they brought to your life and how you continue to value those things. Light a candle in celebration of him/her. Create a shrine to his/her life and write down the wonderful things about that person. Write a message to him/her, put it in a helium balloon and let it fly to the heavens.
  • Connect with the person you have lost in meditation. You don’t have to believe in “spirits” to do this. Sit quietly and breathe for a while until you are focused on your breath and it is slow and deep. Picture your loved one’s face in detail. Picture your face near your loved one’s face. Tell him/her that you miss him. Tell her that you are grateful for having had her in your life. Then listen. Let your loved one tell you wonderful things about yourself. You’d be surprised how well this works!
  • If you’re feeling depressed, go out amongst people. Isolating yourself will not help you feel better.
  • If you are feeling suicidal, get help immediately! Go to the nearest emergency room if you have a real plan or contact a professional for help if you are not planning to do anything immediately or if you have suicidal thoughts with no plan.

Death is a natural part of life. Depending on your beliefs, the end of suffering for your loved one may bring you comfort. Or if the death was a result of a tragedy, perhaps remembering that your loved one is most likely in a peaceful place may help. The holidays call for a celebration of life – both for the living and the passed. May your holidays be peaceful and may you feel your lost loved ones smiling down on you, adding to your joy.

Halloween: More trick than treat for those with mental illness?

I came across a thought-provoking post today and wanted to share it here. The original post came from Healthy Place.

Halloween: More Trick Than Treat for Those With Mental Illness?

Halloween and Dia De Muertos (The Day of the Dead) can be child’s play. Ghosts, goblins, superheroes, Disney princesses and more bring both smiles and horror. For those with a mental illness, PTSD or panic, Halloween can conjure up very intense negative responses.

Sometimes horror flickers on the TV screen or in the movie theater, sometimes horror is found behind a mask, sometimes it comes to visit wrapped in “Trick or Treat!” Potential triggers lurk everywhere: black cats, oversized spiders, masks, horror movies and even costumes that perpetuate mental health stigma, domestic violence and much more. Ahhh, the midnight hour.

I Hate Halloween

I admit it – I hate Halloween with a passion. My dislike for Halloween began innocently enough: my birthday is the week before Halloween. Instead of a cake of my choosing, I used to get the horrid orange and black Halloween birthday cakes. There is nothing more unappetizing than black frosting. Next up: My 4th grade Halloween party. My teacher decided that fun would be turning off all of the lights in the room and having us stick our hands into bowls of food that represented body parts: elbow noodles for brains, olives for eyes and chicken liver for…well, you get the idea. Fun? Not so much when 15 kids are vomiting. Fast forward to 2003: I was assaulted on Halloween. My assailant wore a Halloween mask. Yep, I hate Halloween.

Halloween is Scary for Adult Trauma Survivors

For the adult survivor of trauma, Halloween can hold all the makings of flashbacks, panic and terror. The macabre comes out to play in the form of costumes, props and decorations. Whether it be fake blood, severed body parts, all-out zombie attacks, masks from classic horror films such as Friday the 13th, It, Saw, Nightmare on Elm Street, Pin Head, Scream or witch costumes or the props (knives, needles or impalement, anyone?), Halloween brings out those who enjoy Halloween for shock value. The beauty of Halloween is that for at least one day, we can be anything we wish: the shy become bold pirates, the geek becomes the hunk or diva, those who would suppose him or herself to be weak chooses to be a superhero. That is also the beast of Halloween.

Facing Halloween Can Be Difficult

If Halloween is troublesome for you, here are a few things that may be helpful:

  • Avoid watching television during this time.
  • Don’t give out candy or if you choose to give out candy, don’t answer the door by yourself.
  • Spend the evening doing things completely unrelated to Halloween.
  • Listen to some soothing music to help lower the hyper vigilance.
  • Eat the candy yourself. No one said you have to share it.

Active Shooter Events: What they don’t tell you

Since I am heavily involved in my community as the Neighborhood Watch Committee Chairperson, I decided to attend the local police department’s 12-week Citizens Police Academy. We meet every Thursday evening for 2 – 3 hours, depending on the topic. I’ve learned about things such as SWAT, hostage negotiation, traffic stops, building searches, crime scene investigations and officer safety. Last week’s topic impacted me so much that I spent the drive home in tears.

The aforementioned topic was ASE, or Active Shooter Events. If that term is confusing, think ColumbineVirginia Tech or Fort Hood. Think of one or more person(s), armed with guns, attacking innocent groups of people, usually for revenge, fame or infamy, trying to rack up a high body count.

I’m sure I don’t need to explain to you that the topic itself is upsetting. While ASEs can be traced back to 1764 (really!), the increase in the last two decades is at the least alarming and at the most, terrifying. The presentation was Texas State University’s program to educate civilians about what ASEs are and how to deal with them if a person finds him/herself facing one. Local officers have delivered this presentation to all of the area school districts, some businesses, churches, military bases and hospitals. The local school district has incorporated “lockdown drills” along with the fire drills that have been routine for decades. I must admit, visualizing my teenage daughter going through a lockdown drill makes me sad and angry.

While I hate to give attention to negative things, hearing this presentation brought up a few issues in my mind. There was ONE slide in the PowerPoint that briefly addressed what someone may feel after going through a trauma like this. The officer that was teaching us started to gloss over the fact that many people develop PTSD and PTSD-like symptoms. Almost involuntarily, I shouted, “Getting help is not a sign of weakness! It’s a sign of strength!” Fortunately for me, the officer agreed and elaborated a bit more about the importance of getting professional help after going through an ASE.

The presentation also encouraged us to live life basically looking over our shoulders and preparing for worst-case scenarios every time we went into a public place. I don’t know about you, but I can’t live like that. That’s not even living, in my opinion. The presenting officer gave several examples from his own personal life that involved his wife and son, who have been encouraged to be constantly on alert for badness. How sad for them.

The bottom line is that sometimes people do horrific things. The reasons vary, but mental illness plays a large part in many of these tragic events. It’s up to us as people, citizens, parents, children, brothers, sisters, co-workers, neighbors and humans to not ignore others when they are showing signs of mental instability. It may feel like none of your business, but if this person ends up doing something horrible, will that excuse assuage your guilt? I’m calling everyone who reads this to action: let’s de-stigmatize mental illness and its treatment so that some tragedies can be prevented. I realize that this will not be a panacea for ASEs, but if even one crisis can be stopped before it has started, that will be a victory in my book.

[Original article may be found here]

Non-treatment of mental illness: Who’s to blame?

This year (2013), October 10 is World Mental Health Day. I’d be remiss not to mention this considering that I write about mental health all of the time. Actually, I find that I write about mental illness more often than “health.” Like most things in life, we tend to take notice of things that go wrong because, really, most other things go right. It’s just that we take these things for granted.

Think about it. The very fact that you’re breathing is “right.” If you’re reading this post that means you can see. That’s pretty cool. Even if you’re going through a crisis, you do have many other things that go smoothly, even if they seem “behind the scenes.” The reason humans tend to focus on the negative so much is because it is out of the ordinary.

That being said, mental illness is unfortunately more ordinary than most people think.  According to the National Alliance of Mental Health (NAMI), one in four American adults (61.5 million people) and about 20% of adolescents age 13 – 18 experience some kind of mental illness in any given year. These people are just like you and me – they may even be you and me.

Even though education about mental illness has increased over the last decade or so, there’s still a huge stigma associated with it. It breaks my heart to hear about someone who could have been helped if they had just reached out for it, but instead ended up in a tragic situation.

Why does this still happen? I wish there was a simple answer, but in many instances, the person is either not aware he/she is ill, is not aware of local and national resources or is too afraid to be labeled “crazy” if he/she seeks out help. Sometimes, as in the case of Andrea Yates, many entities fail.

After the birth of her first child, Noah, in February of 1994, the Yates were advised not to have any more children because Andrea developed Postpartum Psychosis. Due to their religious beliefs and family influences, they continued on to have four more: John (December, 1995), Paul (September, 1997), Luke (February, 1999) and Mary (November, 2000). Andrea had trouble after each birth, but never stopped being open to, “having as many children as God wanted.”

After Mary’s birth in 2000, Andrea’s psychosis went into overdrive and once again, the Yates sought help for her. She was hospitalized, placed on anti-psychotic medication, and eventually sent home. One problem that psychosis presents to the mental health practitioner is that a diagnosis relies heavily on self-report from the patient. In 2001, Andrea reported to her psychiatrist that she was no longer having delusions or hallucinations, and she stopped taking her medication. You probably know the rest, but if you’re interested in learning about Andrea’s specific delusions that prompted her tragic actions, visit Wikipedia’s page.

So, who’s to blame? We can point fingers at multiple system failures:

  • Andrea herself, who could have stopped having children, been more honest about her experiences or could have taken her medications as prescribed;
  • Rusty, Andrea’s husband, for insisting that they follow “God’s plan,” for not carefully monitoring his wife’s medication regimen and leaving her alone with the kids for even 5 minutes;
  • Their religion, which encouraged couples to have as many children as they could naturally;
  • The mental health professionals for not insisting that she stay on her medication, no matter how much better she was feeling;
  • Her family, for not seeing how ill she really was and believing that she could never hurt anyone except herself (she had tried to commit suicide multiple times);
  • Her parents for passing on the genes that biologically allow for the expression of symptoms;
  • American society, for making mental illness so stigmatizing that she was extremely embarrassed to have to see a professional at all; or
  • Everyone who came in contact with this woman and either missed or dismissed the odd behavior she was exhibiting

As you can see from this one case, “the system” failed on multiple levels. Unfortunately, the loss of innocent lives are not the only fatalities caused in some part by mental illness. NAMI estimates 30,000 Americans commit suicide each year, with about 90% struggling with mental illness.

What can we do? Each person that reads this needs to pass it on to others so that they can educate themselves about what mental illnesses are, how to look for signs of symptoms in others and themselves and find local and national resources that can provide help. With each person that is educated and prepared, another piece of the stigma falls away. It is my personal hope that mental illness will be almost completely de-stigmatized in my lifetime, but that is up to you.

[Re-posted from its original source at]

30 Things to Stop Doing to Yourself

I came across this blog post this morning and just had to share!

30 Things to Stop Doing to Yourself.

Happy Thanksgiving!

We here at Living Self-Care would like to wish all of you a very Happy Thanksgiving! This year has been full of changes for us, and I think I can speak for Diane when I say we are very grateful for each and every one of them.

When things happen, they’re just things. We are responsible for what we label them (good or bad). It’s hard to imagine something like a cancer diagnosis being something GOOD, but I have also heard from several survivors and current cancer patients that their diagnosis and journey has ultimately changed them for the better.

It’s easy to be thankful for the obviously positive things in life, but most of the time, the negative (or what we label as “bad”) presents a learning opportunity. The trick is to be open minded and try to look at the situation outside of your usual way of thinking. There’s usually the proverbial “silver lining” to be found, and I truly believe there is no such thing as failure, only lessons.

This year, as challenging as the change has been, I am so thankful that my mother moved in with us. We don’t have to worry about each other long distance anymore. And though we bump heads often, I am so thankful that we are learning how to relate to each other again (in a much more healthy manner this time).

As you go about your Thanksgiving traditions, remember that there are so many things to be grateful for – even the things that you may have categorized as “awful.” Have a safe and happy one!!

All of our love,

Diane Sanford and Stacey Glaesmann

Candy Land

So, it’s November first – the day after the kiddos have dressed up and gone into a sugar coma! Can you believe how quickly this year has gone by? As you’re going about your day and glancing over at the loot left over from last night, consider these tips on how not to overindulge:

  • Divide the candy and treats into “portion sizes” and put each portion in a Ziploc baggie (a reasonable portion is 2 – 3 “fun size” candy bars)
  • Eat fruit instead of candy when your sweet tooth comes a-calling
  • Give yourself permission to eat a portion of candy on certain days (for example, “I may have my portion on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday.”)
  • If you pig out, don’t thrash yourself. We’re all human and most of us love chocolate! After all, it boosts serotonin and releases endorphins, which elevate mood!
  • Use these same tips with your kids – moderation is the key to preventing tummy aches and you’ll be teaching them the importance of a healthy, balanced diet.

Days like Halloween, Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas/Hanukkah are usually filled with all kinds of sweet treats. Having a plan in place before you face the table full of desserts will help you stay on track with your healthy diet. After all, physical health is one of the basics of self-care!

Big Changes

Diane will be back posting next Monday after she gets back from her fabulous trip  to Spain! Hopefully we’ll get to hear all about it!

In the meantime, I wanted to share an experience of my own with you. My family and I recently decided that it was time for my mother to move in with us for several reasons. I felt such a mixture of emotions at the thought: happiness because I’ll see her more and because I’ll be there if she needs anything medically; apprehension because of our past relationship (though it has since been healed); and wariness that I might fall back into my childhood relationship patterns with her.

She’s only been here a couple of days and I have to keep myself from treating her like a guest. My impulse is to ask, “Can I do something or get something for you?” In reality, all she wants is to find her own way and settle into her own routine that is harmonious with ours. My offers to do things for her would just enable her to be more dependent than independent, and neither of us want that.

We have agreed on a code of complete honesty, even if that may mean hurt feelings. We have discovered the hard way through the years that mind reading is just not possible!

This is a big change for all of us, and I struggle to remember that. Holding myself back from offering things and allowing myself to be calm in spite of my mother’s habitual anxiety is a challenge. But my intuition is telling me that this is a good situation, so I’m focusing on an attitude of gratitude instead of stressing out. It’s not easy, but I am worth it – and so are YOU!

Body Language: Louder than Speech

I was in session with a client yesterday who was telling me that she felt her whole life had been one giant obstacle. “Nothing goes right for me,” she said tearfully. She wondered why the people in her life seemed to always take advantage of her or make her feel inferior to them.

As I listened, I took note of her body language. She was slumped down on the couch, holding a pillow on her lap and looking down at the floor as she spoke. She was obviously feeling dejected and defeated.

I asked her to become aware of her body language in that moment. She brought her awareness to the position of her body, noted the pillow on her lap (which she hadn’t realized was even there), and looked up as if a light had just turned on in her mind. “People know things about me before they even meet me, don’t they?” she asked. After I asked for clarification, she wisely replied that her slumped position indicated that she had given up and the pillow on her lap conveyed her general fear of the world (the pillow was protection) and her feelings of helplessness.

Whether we know it or not, body language is a huge part in human communication. You may find someone standoffish but not know why or be introduced to a new person and find them immediately annoying for no obvious reason. Many times, it’s our subconscious picking up and interpreting the other person’s body language.

If someone is standing with their arms folded in front of them, that can be interpreted as standoffish, aggressive and/or unapproachable. The person could be the nicest guy or girl in the world, but his/her posture unwittingly prevents anyone from wanting to get to know them.

As you go about your day, pay attention to your body language. What messages are you sending out to the world by the way you walk, sit, stand and talk? Head up, arms down to your sides in an open position and a straight, but relaxed posture, is more likely to attract the people you would like in your life and put those you already know at ease. If you need to adjust your body language, please practice – and also be on the lookout for the subtle messages you receive from the people around you. You may be surprised at how you interpret folks at first glance!


Instant BFFs: Is it Possible?

Have you ever encountered someone that you’ve never met before, but it seems like you’ve known them forever? Someone that you knew within the first 5 minutes of talking to him/her that you want to be in his/her life (in friendship or romantic relationship)? If you have, you know how rare that is. If you haven’t, let me tell you about it!

Recently, I was on a writing assignment and went to interview my source for the story. The interview went very well and we were both professional. After the “official” work was over, this young lady and I sat around talking about this and that; it was surface chit-chat, but I felt as if I could tell her my deepest secrets – and I had only just met her!

It turns out that she had experienced the same phenomenon with me, and we found ourselves contacting each other to find ways to hang out. She’s a volunteer with a local animal charity, so I signed up too. I have made time to help out on 2 occasions so far, and while I enjoy working with the animals and people, it is nice to have extra time with my new friend!

If one of us is not feeling well, the other will offer (and mean it) to cook chicken soup or go to the store for remedies. If one of us is having a crisis, we instinctively contact each other. Keep in mind that I have known this woman for less than a month.

Somehow, I just know that I can trust her and that I can count on her. I also know that I feel a deep loyalty to her and will make myself available whenever I am able when she needs something. How can someone I just met feel like a best friend? How can such a short relationship feel like it’s taken years to build and cultivate?

I firmly believe that people are put in our lives for a reason: to teach us lessons, to see us through a crisis or victory, to be there when we need them. My “new” friend and I joke that we are long-lost sisters, but I know without a doubt that she is supposed to be in my life and I am grateful to have found her!