P.S. Follow up to the personality topic (btw, this is a great holiday gift…$2 listen/Kindle). If you have childhood trauma, divorce, major life change, your personality CAN change. Your ability to tap into natural extroversion/introversion, sensing/intuition, judging/perceiving is a direct result of your experiences of safety and nervous system regulation. Especially in clients with post-traumatic stress, one of the shocking side effects is a personality change, apparent to you and your loved ones. Brief treatment can go a long way to helping you get back to “yourself”. Kindly, Emily
Mindfulness has been a buzz word for so long, it sounds almost like “customer service”, what does that even mean anymore? Can our very full minds tolerate any more information (i.e. stress and emotions)?! I gave mindfulness lots of lip service until I saw it’s powerful effects during a medical procedure several years after a cancer diagnosis.
Like most Austinites, I suffered from dreaded allergies which caused my eardrums to rupture not 1 or 2 (yes, I am an Optometrist, as well), but 3 times! I needed to have tubes and plugs inserted in my ears so I can jump from one body of water to the next = Summer in Texas! Normally it takes my ENT and a strong nurse or two to hold me down and often an anti-anxiety prescription drug to calm my fight-flight response to the pain of putting in or adjusting a tube.
I began doing yoga and Brainspotting for different reasons and my very next ENT appointment yielded a difference was amazing. My doctor wanted to know why I was not my jumpy-stressed out self. He had never seen such a change in a patient before. I was able to calm my nervous system and my fear was conquered with my mindful practices.
There are different levels of mindfulness and just like relationships, it can sometimes be a huge benefit to have a professional teach you the basics to save a lot of headaches and misfires. Even worse than mindfulness that does not work is mindfulness that is harmful. Read more here! In fact, knowing our minds better…the good, the bad and the ugly…is the best way to create mental, emotional and physical health. *Warning: how mindfulness can be harmful if not seen in a bigger picture by a competent mental health care practitioner.
I offer Brainspotting, a mindful visually based counseling over 1-3 sessions that requires little talking and lots of healing. It is a beautiful beginning to treating old trauma, new heartache, anxiety, depression, feeling stuck and grief from loss. Some clients qualify for “self-brainspotting” which is a mindful practice that can be done at home+work to calm an overly full limbic (your emotions) and cerebral (thinking) brain.
You may schedule Brainspotting in the few weeks before your next “puff of air” test at the eye doctor or to test drive a new type of counseling that is fast, effective and fascinating, as testified by the “[eye] doctor who heals thyself”!
I have to admit one of the reasons I loved working in a doctor’s office (as a Neuro Optometrist) was the reception room magazines. My staff would hide People from me so I wouldn’t be able to steal them on my breaks. Then, as a cancer patient, they were an escape during chemo and other treatments. Now, as a counselor, I read People with a new set of eyes.
An article about Jackie Collins, the famous author, days before she died, stayed with me. She kept her breast cancer an absolute secret for six years, from friends, family and the public. She thought about it (& actually felt it physically) daily but also claimed to have mentally erased it from her mind, choosing to live “happily, happily!” in denial.
She wants other survivors to know that they should get screened and treated; that she had a choice, however recommends to not pick her choice.
That confused me a bit.
Until I started thinking about the mental cancers that we all live with on a daily basis, alone in our heads. Our deep, dark secrets…the break-ups and break downs we think about first thing in the morning and last thing before bed…the hoarded time and energy we spend on those we resent, detest and cannot stand…obsessing over what we don’t want vs what we do…how we try so hard to “get over” things versus look them straight in the eye in the way that we do when we are in a counseling chair or face-to-face with someone who can finally help us because we cried “mercy!” and let down our guard.
Jackie was queen of creating romance novels full of adventure and plot lines for her most famous heroine, Lucky Santangelo, even writing five more books AFTER she was diagnosed with cancer. Her sister, Joan, was an equally glamorous TV star from the 1980s. Clearly they valued attractiveness, popularity and success (See my Riddle of Self Esteem blogpost) over any other obstacles to their fame and fortune. Maybe high self esteem kept Jackie alive, living well after cancer. Maybe it was how she talked to herself vs what she showed the world that helped her mind-body connection, even during treatments that she endured privately.
We may never know.
What I do know is true (a la “Oprah!” said in her bellowing ringtone) is that we all have growths in our bodies and brains that we can choose to feed or ignore, share or not share. Sometimes outside our own consciousness, we pick the individual path that fits the picture we want to be true, even if it costs us dearly.
And that is okay.
It is alright to be driven by your desires and even the things you detest (because cancer and negative thoughts are no picnic!).
I think Jackie’s take home message is that we cannot hold the inside pain and outside world at bay forever. At some point, we must take off our public faces and face our inner countenance that is scared, worried, sad or alone. No feeling is worth losing your life and facing your feelings will not cost you nearly as much as blocking them out. Ultimately, she did that by letting people in.
Jackie and Joan Collins remind me of a sisterhood that we share, whether we know of each other’s personal pain and suffering or not. While Jackie wanted to protect her sister, it prevented Joan from being there for her, which could have helped them both. Of course it is Jackie’s choice to not share her diagnosis, but I wonder how much mental burden she experienced alone without a confidante, in order live a public life that was privately excruciating.
If you are hiding from your family or yourself in order to deal with your inner demons, I welcome you to see if counseling is a good fit for gaining the guts and grace to trust yourself and another person to face your fears together.
I do not need to know the intimate details of your inner agony to know that sharing it with a trusted counselor is the way we begin to heal and survive, no matter what the truth we face together.
How we feel about the world is in direct connection to how we feel about ourselves. Researchers have called this “self-esteem”. Low self-esteem leads to more negative mental symptoms than almost any other culprit. High self-esteem is necessary to counteract our brain’s natural inclination to remember more negative events and feelings than positive ones. Just try it…name 5 bad things & 5 good things that happened this week…which list is quicker/easier?
The riddle of self-esteem is that there is no middle ground. Usually when we hear of other’s successes (e.g. new baby, relationship, promotion), we compare ourselves and react according to how well we have met similar goals or milestones.
“Of course, we are so happy for you!” But maybe a little sad for ourselves, or sighing relief that we are past that challenge, or at a loss as to how to react to our friends because we are having trouble just getting through our own issues & stress (sound familiar?). Mostly, we notice the same annoying things in others that we ourselves struggle with…repeatable patterns that seem to not have any clear answers.
The top 3 self-esteem measures are our own attractiveness, popularity and (successful) performance. How do you measure up? Do you compare yourself to your coworkers or yourself? Is it ok to be average in your looks, connection to others and ability to do your job? Often, it makes us feel small, rejected and purposeless.
If you feel average in your self-esteem, it means you have many highs and lows (often minute by minute), which is very taxing to your mental health. Imagine if your blood pressure or weight fluctuated as wildly and often as does your emotional gauge of how “alright” you feel throughout your day. We wouldn’t be expected to ignore those kind of signs that something is “off” or broken!
Self esteem is not just a riddle, but ridiculous! It’s time to turn over a new leaf…
I am suggesting we wake up to our mental health as if it was life-threatening…not only because I am a counselor who is passionate helping clients in this area but because it has made my life better, too. When you are stuck in self-esteem shit-storms, you feel low, depressed, irritable, overwhelmed, hungover and exhausted. These are mental concepts with physical side effects that we cannot fix without some better mental tools.
Kristen Neff, UT researcher and self-compassion guru offers amazing insight about how to shift outdated & impossible self-esteem thoughts to an approach that gives us more control, happiness and healthier behaviors.
Her research found that practicing self-compassion creates much greater resilience in those experiencing divorce (and 9 months later!), less bullying and more accountability in schools, and lower rates of PTSD in those who experience trauma and suffering.
In a nutshell, the first steps are to notice what you might say to a struggling friend and the tone you would use to express kindness and empathy:
“That’s so hard. I’m sorry you are having a tough time. It sucks to be in that place.” (real, thoughtful, empathic)
- Now, notice what you say to YOURSELF when you are facing a struggle.
- Do you use language and tone that is friend-worthy?
- Or do you procrastinate, sabotage or outright attack yourself?
Showing up for yourself is the most important thing you will do today (and every day).
When I began noticing how often I used my self esteem as my compass instead of befriending myself, I overcame cancer, depression and relationships that held me hostage. I noticed that being a friend to myself was my most powerful asset to live well and healthy in this world. I went a little overboard, returning to school to get a Masters in Counseling to better understand my journey. You don’t have to do that! But you can try this at home.
Go to www.selfcompassion.org for her quiz (right side of page) and meditations (middle of page) to get started. Bring your results to your next appointment and I will help you “see” the answers to the riddles that have you stuck & stressed.
Austin Mental Wellness is the brainchild of Emily Schottman, an Optometrist + Counselor + Cancer Survivor, who can help you see yourself & others in a better light.
You can call/text me to learn more or to book an appointment: 512.751.9195
We are located in central Austin, near UpperCrust bakery. Emily Schottman is the founder of http://www.starsinyoureyes.com, as well as counselor to the stars who are her clients!