Is Focus an “F” word?

As I complete my slides for the International Brainspotting Conference (Neurobiology & Research) in July 2021, I am fixated on a Venn diagram of how we use our eyes to see. The first circle is Focus, the fine tuned 20/20 vision and continuous concentration we try to use every day.

The eyes receive 1 to 10 million bits of information every second, filtered down to 50 or so manageable bites of data in our brains. In the process, we can lose our ground as we laser focus on getting our to-do lists done. You may have 20/20 vision, but not when you’re trying to do 20 things all at once.

A client this week said when her periphery is lost, she loses her perspective (beautiful!) and that is true for focus, as well. Here’s an article on how to improve your focus before you lose your mind!

Stay tuned for the next circle on the Venn diagram to your own Post-traumatic Clarity!

How are you? A Loaded question

It’s happening. A text invitation to dinner. Vacation planning. Are we doing this? Venturing out in a vaccinated world. It’s normal to feel a little hesitant after being in “lock down” mode for so long. Like the band aid approach, do you slowly pull back your guarded feelings or rip that sucker off?!

Two resources have appealed to me on the “how to” do these next steps. An article on how to make small talk (or more authentic talk) in upcoming weeks and months. The second is a beautiful love/music letter from Texas and early pandemic that stands the test of time.

It’s ok to take your time, be kind to yourself and take baby steps, finding your sea legs in social, emotional and mental invitations. Remember we dropped into the pandemic in an abrupt and surreal way. The antidote is to crawl out in an intentional and real way that feels right for you. It’s ok to push pause and curl into your favorite pajamas again for an evening. The world will wait.

late stage of pandemic impact

I am in awe of how our perceptions give way to such raw and exhausted feelings in the tail of this pandemic. It has been post-traumatic stress to the nth degree. We can not even call it “post”, in the uncertainty of when we will be able to truly exhale (and not inhale what we just ate…mask mania!).

I found the below visual illusion to be particularly fitting to the feeling that we are floating along, above the horizon, like the boat in this article. Our eyes like when what we see fits what we expect. A year ago, I may have seen this image differently. Now, I kinda like it.

I do want to validate and empathize with how this late stage of pandemic muck messes with our functioning and quality of life. We are not alone in it, yet it feels like we are. Little things are so very important to buoy our moods, yet they are fleeting. It is easy to forget where we are in the rhythm of things. We miss the mundane, the exciting and the hope to have this difficult time in our rearview mirrors.

The incidence of anxiety, depression and PTSD has quadrupled. May this post elevate your mood since we are more than statistics and walking zombies. We are pan-durable.

Be you. Be Kind. Be Better…and Icing

For these endless/too fast weeks, I am remembering the words of Gloria Estefan about her daughter, Emily: Be you. Be kind. Be better. Be open, be careful if you feel unsafe, be LOVE. Anything else is icing.

Here are three things that have caught my eye and made me smile…neuroscience & art “icing”.

How Anxiety has changed in 2020

UT YouTube: 2020 Stresses on the Brain (It’s a long one, but read the chat for fast tips from nutrition to ideas to lower your anxiety)

An affordable Australian Artist teaches how to paint your stress away! I signed up for her $27 class and have enjoyed unplugging my brain once a week. Just listening to her voice is therapeutic.

Finally, Icing as an “ice” technique is an old trick to calm anxiety fast. I prefer my headache hat over a bowl of ice, but you do you!

73 Questions answered by Couples Therapist Extraordinaire

I see mostly adult individuals who have faced big things in their lives: loss of loved ones, taking care of children and elderly parents, being adopted, chronic health issues and, of course, Covid-19. I have noticed that the ones in relationship with a partner have a unique way of feeling grounded or ungrounded during times of stress. When we can securely attach to another (hint: a great therapist counts!) you can better weather the storms of your life.

Our brains are wired to heal through relationships which are especially hard right now. Dr. Esther Perel offers answers from years of experience helping individuals who want answers and concrete solutions. In this short video, you even get a glance of her husband and his art in this one. She is a specialist in relationship (Pleasure) and he specializes in trauma (Pain). The perfect union to ponder on a hazy Friday afternoon. 🙂

Uncertainty Soup

6/23/20  Originally, this article from local University of Texas caught my eye, as so many of us are working from home and maybe seeing diminished returns: working harder to get less done.

And then, a dear person sent me this article/poem how it really feels as a human right now (working, not working, this working-at-home-is-sometimes-not-working) and I just had to share. Scroll to the end of her piece and listen to her read. It’s like auditory vitamin B-12!

Remember to collaborate and find community in this uncertain time. Remember that soup is good on sunny or cloudy days. Remember that “where you look affects how you feel”.  Enjoy!

Unending Uncertainty

5/13/20   The amount of upheaval and adaptation you have experienced in the last couple months is hard to see, let alone wrap your mind around. You may not realize how well or poorly you are doing now. This is normal. We are all anxious to feel safe and grounded in the “here and now”.

Dr. Grand’s talk has been very helpful for me to normalize a very abnormal time. He mentions that sight is usually our main tool to process information or distract ourselves which is why and how Brainspotting works so fast. It can be harder to process Covid-19 since it is invisible; we are hyper-hypervigilant about the unending uncertainty. It is a chance to deal with a double negative and be open to clarity in so much fuzziness.

These are the highlights/mantras below. I do better seeing in print, however auditory is here too.

Mantra #1:  Time distortion takes place in the subcortex of the brain.

Mantra #2:  During this period of existential trauma, we may experience states such as dissociation, shut down, denial, and hyper-hyper vigilance.

Mantra #3: This existential trauma presses on the underlying traumas we are still processing from our childhoods.

Mantra #4: This is not the time to make big decisions.

Mantra #5: This is, however, a time to set your priorities. We are being forced to evaluate what is important and what is not important.

Mantra #6: We must slow down, be curious, and observe.

Mantra #7: We are safe in the present moment; we must bring ourselves back from ruminations about the past and worries about the future and focus on the here and now.

Mantra #8: In the present moment, allow uncertainty, be curious, and mindfully pay attention.

Mantra #9: If not now, when?

Mantra #10: A karmic “pause button” has been hit.

Mantra #11: In adversity, there is opportunity.

Mantra #12: Distractions are a good thing. Embrace hobbies, movies, cleaning, cooking, any other activity that focuses your attention. I will be out in the garden with my hubby this weekend.

Mantra #13: Stop and observe the majesty of nature

Mantra #14: Be generous to yourself

Mantra #15: Be generous to others

Mantra #16: We are in a major “reset” period as a paradigm shift occurs in the world. A foundational principle of Brainspotting, the Uncertainty principle, offers guidance on how we can move as gracefully as possible through this challenging period

Do you see what eye see?

4/21/20  Within the first week of Optometry school in Southern California, we walked as a class down the hall to a large laboratory set up up with 10 black exam chairs, phoropters and biomicroscopes. Each of these were arranged as separate exam stations, separated by curtains. We spent many days, nights, weeks and months in this dark room, taking turns being doctor and patient, learning to measure vision and see inside the eye. It was 1992 before the first pop-up restaurant or makeshift hospitals like we are seeing for COVID-19.

The biomicroscope is by far my favorite piece of eye equipment. It allows you to see the front and back surfaces of the eye in rich color with different lights and magnification. It sits on a table that slides in front of the patient and aligns their eyes with yours. As you peer inside, it feels as if you are landing on the moon or the bottom of the sea.

The first recognizable landmark is the iris, the colored part of your eye that surrounds your pupil, which just a big black hole. You drop immediately into craggy views, webby tissues, and almost volcanic or coral looking types of creation. The terrain of each iris is like a fingerprint, only 3D and never touched. You hold your breathe a little, because you are very close to your patient and it is an awesome sight. Short of a runaway blood vessel or a mineral deposit, there is lots to see in the iris but little that is clinically relevant.

The most important part of the front of the eye is the cornea. It is the clear dome front of the eyeball where you might place a contact lens. It is completely transparent which is good because otherwise you could not see clearly out of it. You know you are looking at the cornea when you swing your microscope light at a side angle to illuminate it’s nothingness. It looks like…Nothing. This was so frustrating to me. How do I know I am seeing the nothing when I see nothing?  Everyone clucked their “ooh’s” and “aah’s”, and I did as well, but I could not for the life of me see the damn thing. 

“It’s okay, just click up the magnification”, said my patient partner. It’s always great when your patient knows more than you. I click the magnification up. The sounds are how I knew I was getting close but all the clicking and clucking around me made me feel like a fraud. I was convinced that this first surface where light bends to enter the eye, travel the optic nerve, and create the miracle of vision was lost on me. Nothing there usually also means nothing is wrong for the patient but it did not feel right to me.

Pretty much the only time you can see something in the cornea is when there is a problem: a scratch, a fog, a degeneration. It was exciting when we could finally see some pathology so we knew we were focused on the right tissue but it also meant the patient was in pain, blurry and maybe even going blind. I much prefer the artistic view of the iris to the pathology that most doctors live to treat (I am thankful they do, as well).

Years later, as a Counselor, you would think I see less visual problems and solutions, but I actually see them more than ever. The same terms I learned then also apply now. I see and hear patients as they discover their unique and deep awareness, like their stunning iris, and their shifts in perspective, however invisible at first. It is a joy to build a personal narrative from a nothingness place, both for myself and now my clients.

I was never happy to be a doctor who had to inform patients of a dire diagnosis. I am much more alive showing up in creative ways, with vision and insight, in my makeshift guest-room-now telehealth office, with lots of hope as we build a vision for the future together.