2020: Best year ever?

Wow, it has been a long year. When I think back to my last overseas mission trip last February, it seems like it was 5 years ago! The initial Italy outbreak was occurring when I was in nearby Croatia, so our volunteer team was on high alert, being so close to the devastation. We thought it was a short term current event. Who knew that we were on the cusp of our whole lives being shut down! So much has happened, and not happened, since then.

My girls were on a senior year “Spring break hurrah”, with friends, when they got the news that their university was closing down for an extra week. It would be the last time they saw most of their friends, and they never did get to walk across a stage after 4 years of exemplary work. As one of my daughter’s shared, “I was living my best life and then it was gone in an instant!”

When I talk to clients, I hear stories of incredible loss: Loss of jobs, friends, freedom, community, mental health….and more. Many people have experienced lack of closure with those they used to go to school with or folks they worked with, loved ones who have died during this time, even people who have moved away.

On top of Covid, we in the United States have had political tension that has come between even the closest of family and friends. We are divided into camps where there isn’t a lot of common ground, since many of the polarizing issues rest in people’s core value systems. Even folks who value tolerance are struggling with how to live that in our current climate.

As a counselor, my job has always been to assist people with overcoming trauma and altering victim status to empowerment status, resulting in a life well-lived. Are you able to do this with 2020? I encourage you to try…

Here is what this processing might look like. I use my own life as an example.

I am grateful that even though I was forced to close down the office space that I LOVED, I am able to see clients via Telehealth. Because of this transition, I am able to meet with clients when I travel to Phoenix for cancer treatment! I don’t have to stop working because of my diagnosis, which is an enormous blessing because I love my work and I have to work in these economic times!

I am grateful that my daughter, who had planned to take a gap year to earn money to attend grad school, could not find anyone hiring during the shutdown, so she applied to grad school early and ended up with a full ride scholarship. She would never thought that possible. Covid forced her into pursuing her dream!

I am grateful that my online church encouraged me to join a virtual small group, because they were proactive in creating community during the shutdown. My church is in Texas, so I never dreamed that I would connect, as I have, with anyone in the congregation! Now we have dear friends in town when we visit our girls! I also have numerous friends who I talk to more often because we have scheduled weekly, bi-weekly or monthly conversations using Zoom or Face Time.

I am also grateful that through this last year, I have seen people’s colors…some of those colors darker and some brighter than others. I have been able to see people’s love and hate, and their thoughtfulness and lack thereof. I have been disappointed in some behaviors but motivated by others, as we all respond to the crisis at hand. I have learned who are my people and who are not. As painful as that can be sometimes, it is a gift.

I could go on…but you get the process. Romans 8:28 tells us that, “In all things, God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose”. The promise does not say that life will be easy but rather, we can turn hard times into purposeful living. What hardship of 2020 has lead to an unexpected blessing? Are you able to resist the urge to see this as a terrible, no good year, but rather see it as a time of refinement of who you are going forward?

World-changers are people who take their trauma and do something good with it. They use their character building tough days, as motivation for making their family, their community, and even the earth a better place. Google “People who overcame adversity to do big things” and you will see lists and lists of people who didn’t stop because they endured a hardship. We all have 2020 as a springboard into a great 2021. Do you accept the challenge?

As always, let me know if I can help.

With love,

Sonia

Counseling: Asking for a Friend

As many of you know, I am the Lead Mentor for a ministry called Alongside, designed to help women who are serving overseas, who might have the need for emotional support. The ministry is run through Thrive Ministries who strives to empower women in ministry around the world. My team of 25 mentors give a few hours a month to encouraging. listening and praying for women who have given their lives to be world changers. Our mentees are running orphanages, teaching English, rescuing women from sex trafficking, doing community development…they are strong but they are often somewhat alone and in need of support. My mentor team is an amazing group of selfless women who have incredible life experience but only a few of them are trained counselors, so we have some guidelines in place to put boundaries around the service we offer. Recently I was asked to put together a list of reasons to suggest professional counseling to women who might need more than we can offer in a mentorship capacity. It reminded me how often I have been asked in private practice how people can identify if a family member or friend might benefit from counseling. I thought it might be beneficial to adapt the guidelines we use at Alongside for my clients….

Here are some reasons that your friend might need counseling:

Your friend is having difficulty regulating her emotions. Of course you may have emotional moments with your friend where there are tears. However, if she expresses that she is crying all the time, struggling to keep her anger under control or fluctuating between extreme emotions, she may need more than an accountability partner.


Your friend isn’t performing effectively in her roles at home or work. Deeper mental issues can effect us cognitively and we can struggle to focus and engage effectively with people as a result. Sometimes it is a fine line between an overwhelmed mommy and a person who has ceased to function in a healthful way. If you sense that your friend is struggling, please advise her to seek counseling.


Your friend complains of not being able to sleep, eat or perform other normal human functions. Oftentimes, clinical depression and/or anxiety can lead to physical issues. Unplanned weight gain or weight loss, chronic insomnia or other symptoms such as headache, stomach pain, or even back pain, can be an indicator of a deep emotional need. If these symptoms are worsening for your friend despite your time together, she may need more attention than you can give in a friendship role.


Your friend reports an ongoing struggle with numerous relationships or an inability to build and maintain relationships. Many women have relationship struggles that they need to process and this is normal. However, if you start to get the feeling that your friend has no healthy relationships in her life, she might need to explore this at a deeper level.


Your friend has unresolved trauma. If your friend shares about past trauma, and you suspect that this trauma is part of the reason she is struggling, it is appropriate to ask her if she has ever gone through counseling for that trauma. Trauma comes in many forms. She may have experienced sexual abuse, spiritual abuse, a profound loss, or may have childhood trauma that has never been resolved.


Your friend struggles to find joy in activities that normally provide joy. When you are encouraging your friend in the area of self care and she can’t seem to find anything that brings her joy, she may be experiencing clinical depression. Is she isolating herself or focusing only on the negative? Encourage your friend to seek professional help.


Your friend has deep or unresolved grief. Women often experience grief because of job loss, relationship conflict, cultural challenges, divorce or death of a loved one. She may benefit from time with a therapist.
Your friend is using substances or obsessive activities to cope. If you suspect that your friend is struggling with addiction, it is important to suggest counseling.


Your friend suggests that they may self harm. Self harm in any form can be very dangerous. Please encourage your friend to seek professional services if you are concerned that she is a danger to themselves or others.
Your friend seems to need more than you feel capable of giving. If you start to feel overwhelmed by this relationship, the answer may simply be that the needs of your friend are too great for a reciprocal relationship.

As always, let me know if I can help!
With love,

Sonia

ADHD: Anything other than meds?

I used to be a high school teacher, so I am well aware of what it is like to have kids with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, as students in a class. One of my most memorable parent-teacher conferences was with a student and their father, where the father kept getting up to “roam” as we discussed how to manage his child in class. If dad can’t sit through a 30 minute conference….I wish I had known then, what I know now!

As I work with parents who are navigating online school during this Covid season, many parents are understanding how frustrating it can be for their students who struggle with focus. I can also imagine that there are some teachers out there, who are welcoming this season of parents gathering awareness, of what their child is like in class. Hopefully this post will give both parents and teachers some ideas! ADHD can be very manageable and some of the most talented people overcome the limitations of ADHD, and use the energy of this condition to do AMAZING things! Never use diagnosis as a lifetime limitation. Use it to empower!

For those of you who are wondering if your child has ADHD, here is a good definition for you:

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a mental health disorder ( I prefer the word “condition”) that can cause above-normal levels of hyperactive and impulsive behaviors. People with ADHD may also have trouble focusing their attention on a single task or sitting still for long periods of time. Both adults and children can have ADHD.

It is important to remember that everyone has “wiggles” that need to get out, through exercise and movement. It is not good to diagnose every kid who has some extra energy as ADHD. But if you notice that even with lots of exercise and a good amount of breaks from concentration, you or your child have wandering thoughts, lack of focus, inability to complete regular tasks, poor job performance, and issues with relationships, spurred from an inability to stay attentive in conversation, it might be something you consider. Always seek professional advice before starting a protocol.

Some common medications being used right now for ADHD are Contempla, Mydayis, and Strattera. While the results vary, many people do not like the side effects that can come with taking these drugs: fatigue, nausea, dry mouth, dizziness, bad mood. People are sometimes forced to choose between the side effect and the original struggle. The good news is that an ADHD diagnosis does not always end in taking medication. Everyone needs to choose what is best for their situation.

If you are feeling like “something has to change” but you are hesitant to go the medication route, maybe try some of these ideas!

Diet:
The first place to start is with diet. Did you know that there are some foods known to trigger ADHD? Foods such as milk, chocolate, soy, wheat, tomatoes, grapes, oranges and corn have been found to cause ADHD reactions in a large number of people. Additionally, foods rich in protein, lean beef, pork, poultry, fish, eggs, beans, nuts, soy, and low-fat dairy products, can have beneficial effects on ADHD symptoms. (Protein-rich foods are used by the body to make neurotransmitters, the chemicals released by brain cells to communicate with each other. Good to know if you have a family member struggling!)

A good book to take a look at is The ADHD Diet by Martin Meyer. (Amazon)  It is full of ideas to get your body working on your side!


Can Do Sitting Wedge:
Often times wiggling produces stimulation, resulting in more wiggling. Help yourself or your child sit still with a comfortable wedge that reduces stimuli and allows focus through less movement. These wedges are also good for posture and achy backs so it is a win-win. Click here for this much needed tool. 

Exercise:
Folks with ADHD need breaks from sitting still, more than most. Having a mini trampoline close to a work area is such a great idea for getting some energy out quickly. Those working from home might break for a walk around the block. While a long workout can be helpful as well, short energy burst exercise can help with productivity during a school or work day. Also, if your child has an opportunity to be part of an athletic team, take advantage of that! And don’t take those activities away, as a punishment, or you will only be punishing yourself!

Homeopathic supplement:
I always like to include a homeopathic remedy in my posts! Homeopathic remedies can be purchased at your local health food store or online and are often a good thing to try before you go the prescription drug route:

Hyoscyamos 6c twice daily for a period of months. Evaluate at 6 weeks and discontinue if there are no results. As always, consult your pharmacist for drug interaction with any prescriptions you might be already taking. Unlike prescription drugs, homeopathic supplements do not create artificial stimulus so do not use this for staying awake longer or creating hyper focus, as it won’t work that way.

Limit time on devices:
Oh…this is so hard nowadays! But just because your sweet child finally calms down when they are allowed to veg-out with their phone or the TV, you are setting them up have disrupted sleep (which is bad for ADHD) and restlessness later in the day. The reason is that devices are full of stimuli! And stimuli, for someone with ADHD, causes more stimuli (remember the wedge?)….so calm down another way.

Of course, this is just a snapshot of what can be done for someone with ADHD but it might be just enough to get you on a productive path to emotional health. As always, let me know if I can help.

With love,


Sonia

Moodiness: When It’s A Girl Thing

Let’s face it. Women hate to be called out on mood associated with menstrual cycle. But if you think about it, a system that is designed to create energies in the body, inform sexuality, and when used at full capacity, make a baby, is going to be just a bit complex. To make that system work well, one might have to give it a little attention.

….MIND, BODY, SPIRIT…it is all connected for sure…

As a therapist, part of my intake with clients involves asking a number of questions about diet, exercise, and other life choices that contribute to mood and sadly, cycles in both men and women are often a contributor to low grade depression, anxiety and general irritability.

Most of my job is to do talk therapy around the trauma and/or current dilemma that the client is experiencing but I spend a decent amount of time recommending ways to keep physical health in check, to support mental health. While it is different for each client, I have found some protocols are being suggested on a regular basis, so I am going to include them from time to time in my blog, so that clients have a place to reference this information easily.

There are some women who experience changes in mood every month. Other women are surprised at different seasons of life such as puberty, mid twenties, after the birth of a child or as they approach menopause, and are ashamed that they can’t control the flux in hormones by sheer will power. Did I mention that this system is complex? Take a breath, give yourself some grace and ask yourself what you are doing to create harmony in your spiritual, physical and emotional self. Every little bit helps to getting yourself on the right track.

If you feel that physically something is “off” and you want to support your health with supplements especially designed for the symptoms you are experiencing, here is a protocol suggestion for you. As the disclosure at the bottom confirms, I am not a medical doctor. I am a psychotherapist who loves homeopathy. This is the form I use with young women and older women, who have had enough of the physical part contributing to their mood swings.


Protocol for struggle with mood and menstrual challenges


Symptoms: Fluctuations with mood that coincide with menstrual cycle. Physical symptoms can include fatigue, acne or breakouts, head ache, lower back ache, irregular menses, cramps related to menses (both before and after flow), mild depression or low feeling, irritability

Be sure to cut out sugars, alcohol and caffeine as much as possible, although green tea is always welcome to any protocol because of the antioxidant properties. Alcohol and Caffeine, in soda and coffee, act as depressants and while they can cause alertness at first, the end result is fatigue, sluggishness and even mild depression. Tea is a great alternative since it metabolized differently and does seem to have as many adverse reactions. Also…a little dark chocolate doesn’t hurt anyone!

Daily exercise that includes rapid movement such as 25 jumping jacks, running up a flight of stairs, jumping on a mini trampoline for a couple minutes, running in place, or jumping rope. Do this exercise on the hour, 4x during the day to encourage circulation. Circulation causes supplements to work better and also keeps serotonin from having a “build up” and then “dump” in your system.

Be sure to drink water to encourage supplements to flow through system throughout the day. If possible, that water should be as pure as possible.



Morning:

Multivitamin: Choose a plant based or organic multi vitamin whenever possible. One that I recommend is Pharmaton Advance Multivitamin and Mineral. It has ginseng which is good for energy. Vitamins made in Germany tend to be organic and high quality. This can be purchased at Amazon.com.

Add-on: Vitamin D3, 5000 IU. This does not have to be any special brand, just a decent brand. Take 2 a day for two weeks and then take 1 a day. Vitamin D deficiency is common for most adults, (unless they are a farmer or a lifeguard). Vitamin D impacts serotonin and is essential for mood.

Add on: Vitamin C, 1000 mg. Liposomal vitamin C is the best, as it is better tolerated, but get what works for your budget. Vitamin C helps with infection, including breakouts. It is best to take it early in the day because it provides energy and may disrupt sleep if taken too late.

Vitanica Brand supplements for hormone imbalance:
1. Slow Flow Menstrual Flow Support
2. Fem Rebalance, Hormone Balance Support.

Take as directed on packaging. After 2 weeks, evaluate if this can be altered.

Nightime:

Liv Lullaby CBD for sleeplessness, headache, cramping or night time anxiety: Take one soft gel 30 minutes before bed. Use pharmaceutical grade only. Here is a link: couchtime.livlabsnow.com

Other CBD products can be layered for high levels of depression and/or anxiety. Seek consult before layering.


Sepia: Sepia is a homeopathic remedy created from fish oils. It helps with most of the symptoms listed above. Take 5 pellets daily, each night before bed to help with mood, cramping, flow, back ache and vaginal dryness or aches. I like the brands Boiron or Hylands. Sepia can be found at your local or online health food store or amazon.com.

Hepar Sulphuris: This is an all natural antibiotic that addresses chronic or cyclical breakouts related to hormone imbalance. Can be taken daily or at the time of the breakout. 5 pellets before bed is a good place to start. Schedule can be altered as symptoms occur. I like the brands Boiron or Hylands.

Other products recommended at consultation: (this is specific to each client)

Remember that every new protocol might need a little time to work well. Give yourself grace as you implement new habits. None of these remedies require a prescription and the above protocol should not be considered medical advice. These are supplements that have shown to help women who struggle with symptoms related to menstrual cycle. If you have an adverse reaction to any of the supplements, please discontinue use immediately. It is recommended that this protocol be shared with any medical professional that is treating you so that they can evaluate interactions with any prescription medication. Pharmacists are often the best resource for supplement interaction information.

As always, let me know if I can help.

With love,

Sonia





Community: Health depends on it

How could any of us know that when we read George Orwell’s 1984, in high school, we would actually live it one day? It was presented to us as Science Fiction, and something that was thought provoking. We should have read it like a training manual. One of the best quotes to describe our times, inside this epic piece of literature was:

“Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two makes four.”

I sat with a client last week, who is as frustrated as the rest of us, with regulatory guidelines that keep her from interacting with friends and family. She said, “I know a lot of people, who also know a lot of people, and none of us know anyone who has died of COVID, so it is hard to understand why we can’t interact with one another.” She, like many of my clients, is fighting hard to keep upbeat, pushing off depression, during this time. Statistically, the numbers are staggering right now. Depression, anxiety, addiction, abuse…all on the rise. Some reports are showing a 30% increase in reported suicide attempts. At some point we need to consider that advocating for mental health is self defense, during this freedom-less time.

Recently, I ran across an article put out by the CDC, that warned about the dangers of isolation. Recent studies were cited in the article, studies that proved that Social isolation significantly increased a person’s risk of premature death from all causes, a risk that may rival those of smoking, obesity, and physical inactivity. Social isolation was associated with about a 50% percent increased risk of dementia. As a mental health professional, I am appalled that along with suggestions of social distancing and mask wearing, there were not guidelines of how to maintain a healthy emotional state during this time. I see firsthand the damage as I sit with clients (all via Telehealth now!) on a regular basis, who now struggle with increased anxiety and depression or who never experienced symptoms before, but are now battling sluggishness, sleeplessness, lethargy, hopelessness, lack of motivation, apathy, and many other symptoms associated with depression.

I am an introvert, who already worked from home as much as I went into my office. So, at the beginning of the shutdown, my life did not change as much as it did for others who were working from home for the first time. But I knew, that over time, the shutdown would start to feel suffocating, even to my love-my-alone-time-self, if I did not proactively make sure that I had community during the weeks (who knew it would be months!) ahead. I immediately put a plan in place for myself that included my neighborhood besties, who live, work and shop at my same haunts, so our exposure is almost identical. We met regularly, but were careful and responsible, so much so, that one of our members had COVID and the rest of us stayed healthy! Having this interaction made this shutdown doable for us. Some people have openly criticized my willingness to risk human interaction at the level I have chosen, because they know that I am immune compromised. For me, mental health is as important as physical health. How do you think I continue to beat the life sentence I have been given?

What are you doing to keep human interaction at a healthy level? What are you doing to protect your mental health and thus, your survival?

I want it to be clear that I am not proposing that you engage in activities that put yourself at risk for the disease, just so you see people face to face. I do not encourage the immune compromised to rub shoulders with strangers during this time. But most of us have the ability to find a team of people to do life with strategically and still minimize risk.

One of the personal victories that I had during this shutdown came from a proactive attempt to create community. Mike and I have been doing church virtually for the last four years, partially for my health, as I have been a germ avoider for the last 6 years. It was also fun to “attend” the same church as our kids living in Waco, TX. So, when Antioch of Waco offered the opportunity to join an online small group during the shutdown, we took a risk and joined a group. We now have friends that we have met with weekly for the last 18 weeks….who knew?

I encourage you to take a look at this short report that gives some support for maintaining contact with other humans: https://www.khca.org/files/2015/10/8-Reasons-Why-We-Need-Human-Touch-More-Than-Ever.pdf. If you are struggling to feel purposeful, or you find yourself not caring about the future or you are just sleepy all the time, you may be on the brink of a deeper dive into depression that could be reversed with some human interaction. The risk might be worth it, especially if done with care.

As always, let me know if I can help.

With love,

Sonia

My Offering: Sitting in the Pain

I just got off the phone with my best friend from my childhood. We met in 7th grade when she and her brother accidentally rang my doorbell, when they were going door to door selling magazines for the school fundraiser. She told me later that she was mortified when I answered the door…we were in 7th grade where everything is embarrassing. I honestly thought it was hilarious, and it lead to a joined-at-the-hip friendship that took us through high school and beyond. I can’t tell you how many memories I have of the two of us laughing till we cried. We passed notes, talked on the phone, double dated, played sports, went on family vacations, were in each other’s weddings…we had no idea that life might not always be so carefree. Since then, our lives have not always been intertwined, but we talk and get together whenever we can, because we will always be heart sisters.

This morning I was liking a photo of her handsome son on Instagram. Her son and my girls are the same age. I remember thinking it was so fun that we were pregnant at the same time. He was recently made a deputy and I thought the picture was celebrating that. It wasn’t. It was the picture in the paper, that told how he died in a car accident yesterday. His was a young, beautiful life, cut short and his mama is my dear friend. And even though I am a trained counselor, and have lead grief groups, and taught seminars on grief… I had no words.

Sometimes in life, there are no words for the pain we shoulder. Even as I have been crying for her all day, and reflecting on our earlier conversation, where she shared about the last time she saw her son and the way God allowed some moments to take place in the last week that she will be forever grateful for…I still do not know what to say. I know better than to think there is a sentence or a phrase that will take any of her pain away. She has faith. She is relying on that to get her through this time. I can only offer myself to sit in the pain with her.

Have you ever had someone sit with you in the pain? I can think of several times in my life where my situation in life was inconsolable and there were no words to ease my burden and there were people who sat…sat next to me…no words…just presence. Presence just says, “I Iove you and I wish had a magic wand to wave on your behalf…but since I don’t, I will sit and pray and hold your hand…” I can only hope that is what I offered this morning.

Our world is topsy turvy right now and you might know of people who need some sitting next to. Maybe you need someone to sit in your pain with you. If you have ever shied away from being with another human because you didn’t know what to say, know that words are not always the only way to be there for someone. I am grateful for every person who has silently come alongside me and sometimes it is all I have to offer.

I wish I could wave a magic wand today…for my dear friend and for those who are facing all sorts of crazy in this pandemic. But today, all I can do is say I am sorry and offer my presence.

Love,

Sonia