Rebuild: Loss after laying it on the field

Caring about football is new to me. I grew up in a boy-house, so I had lots of opportunity to be a fan, if I had wanted that. A father and two brothers who love sports meant that our weekends and Monday nights were filled with games on TV. But it wasn’t until my girls started attending Baylor University, and I got caught up in their underdog team, that I became passionate. I am now a crazy fan who has lucky Baylor clothes and I admit to having screamed, cheered, prayed…all on behalf of a team, playing a game.

Having my team go to the championship game, in my girl’s senior year, was something I predicted their freshman year, and I have been anticipating the game all season. When my Bears lost their first string quarterback early in the game, to a concussion, I was praying for a miracle. We almost got it. I really thought we had it, when our third string QB passed for a touchdown tying the game. Losing in overtime, after watching those boys lay it all on the field was heartbreaking.

In those final seconds, when it became clear that the game could not be won, I had an aha about how this relates to everyday life.

Have you ever laid it all on the field of life…in a relationship, a job, or a dream…only to lose in the final moments? Has your heart been broken by situations or by people, in a way that impacts you for a long time? Have you, at those times, felt defeated in a way that makes you question if all the hard work was worth it?

Broken hearts and broken dreams can either steal our hope or empower us for more. It all depends on how we process and learn from those seasons of life. I have brokenness in my past. I am refusing to let it ruin me. How about you? Do you have situations that need reframing, and healing so that you can move forward with wisdom, learned skills, new dreams and vision for your future?

Experience tells me that when we allow healing to take place, the new relationships, new dreams and new possibilities can wow us in a way we never thought possible! But we must let the good in! What, in your life, do you need to embrace as part of the journey so that you can move into new life?

As always, let me know if I can help. But don’t call on January 1… I will be cheering for my Baylor Bears who will, no doubt, be even better on the field than ever!

With love,

Sonia

Managing Mood: Circulation, healthy eating and bedtime routine

Talk therapy is an important part of mental health. Uncovering the cause of your depression, anxiety, or other treatable concern, is the most important step to mental health, but you would be surprised how much time of my day is spent talking about diet, rest, exercise and self care. There are many times that we cripple the healing time or impede progress when attention is not given to healthy food, movement and time for re-centering. Here are some in-a-nutshell tips for those of you wanting to achieve a more peace-filled life, with or without the use of prescription drugs.

Since I do not prescribe drugs, I am often sitting with clients who have received care from a general practitioner (pediatrician, MD, etc) and we have to work within the parameters of the drugs they have been prescribed. I should probably find time to blog about how to manage your doctor as he/she manages your mental health….maybe next time… In short, drugs for mental health issues cannot be managed like you manage an ear infection with antibiotics. Dosages must be observed over time and played with until you find what works for you, with the least side effects. It is a process that can be time consuming, but if combined with good counseling, you may find a life rhythm that makes you feel like yourself, only better!

Most of my clients do not like taking prescription meds because of how the drugs make them feel…Hello! If you cannot get the drugs to make you function at a higher level, there is something terribly wrong. They are meant to improve life, not hold you back. So let’s uncover some tips to try before going the prescription route or during the process of finding a medical solution…

CIRCULATION IS A MUST FOR EVERYONE WHO STRUGGLES WITH A MOOD DISORDER

When life is getting us down, it is easy to put aside good health practices, become sedentary and increase the use of food and alcohol. Let’s be real, binge watching a new series on Netflix is sometimes easier than going for a run and eating a salad. But the fact of the matter is, healthy living promotes mental health!

Thankfully, the newest studies are showing that bursts of exercise are actually better for the production of serotonin (the happy hormone) than a long walk. That is not to say that leisurely exercise is not good…just that “running like you are scared” for 20 seconds gets that part of your brain charged in a way that helps overcome mood issues. I recommend running up a flight of stairs, doing 25 jumping jacks or jumping on a mini-trampoline when you start to feel the dark cloud or experience that anxiety bubble starting to creep up inside. Additional tip: If you can do this in the SUNSHINE, you increase the production of serotonin, since sunlight produces Vitamin D, which leads to the production of serotonin…or maybe just sit in the sun for a good 10 minutes after you run around the block.

For those of you on mood altering prescriptions, this is especially important. Drugs need to be moved through our systems. If they get “hung up” somewhere in the circulatory system, you can experience a “dump” at times, which results in nasty side effects. Make sure you schedule time in your day to get the blood pumping so that you keep side effects to a minimum.

HEALTHY EATING DOES NOT HAVE TO RUIN YOUR LIFE

When you are fighting mood disorders, there are a few things to keep in mind. Some substances that present as energizers or “calmers” are actually depressants and make the struggle worse. Unfortunately, they are also the things many people first turn to when they start to feel yucky: sugar, caffeine and alcohol. Since I am an all-things-in-moderation kind of gal, I don’t think you have to cut these things out of your life completely, but understand the effect they might be having on your mood.

When you are having a particularly bad day, be sure to minimize the use of sugar, caffeine and alcohol rather than increase the amount you add to your diet. While it might feel really satisfying to eat a hot fudge sundae, the effect you experience later will not be worth it. For my Colorado clients and friends…medical marijuana has the same tendencies so please be careful and ideally, switch to CBD oil without THC. You won’t get the high but you will actually improve your symptoms rather than experience the tendencies toward depression that follow the use of THC. (Were you wondering why the suicide rate increased in CO after we legalized marijuana?)

BEDTIME ROUTINE

Clients often complain that when their sleep is off, their symptoms increase. That makes sense. We all need good sleep when battling anything other than normal. When we struggle to get to sleep or wake up anxiety-filled in the middle of the night, we risk entering a “bad cycle” of starting the day feeling icky and fighting adverse symptoms throughout the day.

Try making bedtime a routine that invites calm and restoration. Dropping into the sheets without proper preparation, can often lead to a restless night or unproductive sleep. If you want to actually be asleep at 11pm, make sure to give yourself some lead time and begin this process between 10 and 10:30.

Things to try:
1. Shut off devices that cause mind stimulation; TV, phones, iPads, etc. While you might feel like you are zoning out on these devices, your mind is still being stimulated and it can sometimes be difficult to shut that down.

2. Chamomile tea, 3-6 mg of melatonin (your body’s natural ability to produce enough itself can be limited in times of stress), a bath with detoxifying epsom salts, listening to classical music…all these offer preparation for a deeper sleep that leads to real rejuvenation.

3. Diffusing lavender near your bed or using a lavender spray on your pillow can be sleep inducing. You might even try combining lavender essential oil with a carrier oil and rubbing it on your feet. (If you don’t like lavender, try rosewood, bergamot or chamomile oils instead.)

4. Make sure your room is dark. Your body creates melatonin better in darkness which leads to better sleep. That is why falling asleep with the TV on isn’t such a great idea for most days.

Creating a routine and sticking to it creates muscle memory. You may find that as you do this daily, your body will start to relax earlier in the process because it knows what is coming…ahhhh!

Life can be difficult so make sure you are doing what you can to support your mood.

As always, let me know if I can help.

With love,

Sonia

Broken Things: God can’t use perfect people

I always wanted to be a counselor. From the time I was just a kid, I found myself sitting on couches, listening to people’s stories. When I suggested the idea to my parents prior to heading off to college, my dad seemed confused by the idea of it. He was the son of immigrants, grew up in a gang in East LA…he did not get the concept of sharing your story with a STRANGER. Plus we had church, which was supposed to be where you got that kind of support. So instead of focusing on an actual profession right at first, I attended a liberal arts college and studied Communications and Political Science and got a Masters in Education so that I could teach high school history and government. I loved teaching but even then, my favorite part of the job was building relationships with students and mentoring them in life. My revised plan became to continue in the field of education and be a school counselor someday. But marriage and my girls and a few moves across state lines changed all that. I now realize that our journeys are not completely our own, and there may have been just a tiny bit of wisdom in the madness of God’s plan for me.

When I finally went to seminary to get a degree in Clinical Mental Health, in my forties, I was actually thinking that I would use my degree in a ministry setting, since at that time I volunteered in those capacities on a regular basis. I was going to grad school again because I had a number of life experiences by this time that gave me some wisdom to speak into other people’s lives and I wanted to enhance that life experience with some big time book knowledge. But my time in my second-time-around grad school, mostly outside the classroom, broke me in so many more ways. Once again, life journey often outweighs book stuff. I have seen things now…hard things. I know now, all that real life was so that today, I can sit across from almost anyone and empathize with their situation, using an emotion I have once experienced, maybe not in the exact way, but similarly. It took me awhile to fully understand that it isn’t the perfect stories that minister to people, but rather brokenness and rebirth that encourages the downtrodden and broken hearted in their pain.

Have you ever been weary? Are you broken hearted now? Do you wonder what you have to offer anyone? My guess is that if you have endured trials in your life, you are more than prepared to be a mentor, a soul mate and an encourager. You might be just getting started in leaving a legacy of helpmate and friend. When people are perfect, they really have nothing to offer the hurting world. Who wants to be told how to live by someone who has not faced struggles? Are you ready to accept the challenge of taking your brokenness and turning it into service to the world?

When I look back at the times in life that I felt broken…when I was lonely, depressed, struggling in relationships, financially wrecked, betrayed and overcome with grief…I never felt that I had something to offer anyone. But once the wounds began to heal, because of God’s mercy, good counsel, the elapsing of time and support of other encouragers, I started to realize the power that comes from overcoming the battles of life. Do you have some power that has yet to be tapped into?

 

This morning, I was listening to this song…and I once again was reminded that in brokenness, we are simply in training for our calling. Are you ready to join in the hard work of turning your sorrow into dancing?

As always, let me know if I can help.

With love,

Sonia

Mother’s Day: A memorial to my mamacita

The thing in my life that brings me more joy than anything else, is parenting alongside my husband, so I feel like I should love Mother’s Day. But, Mother’s Day is especially hard for people who don’t have a positive relationship with their mom, wish more than anything they could be a mother and aren’t, or have lost their mom and are left to navigate the world without her. I lost my mom when I was way too young. I look back and realize that it was the beginning of a life journey where I began to learn about grief and how to minister to people in a counseling setting. As we begin to celebrate moms this weekend, a practice that is beautiful in so many ways, I pray for those that have a hard time on this day. I miss my mom just a little bit more on Mother’s Day… so today, I am sharing the word’s I spoke at her memorial service so many years ago as a tribute to those who celebrate this day without their mama:

Mamacita…My little mama….

Last week, a friend of my mom’s (no, I won’t tell who…), was at the house when a hospice nurse was there. The nurse asked her relation to my mom. She said, “Salma is my best friend and although I know I am hers, I know there are at least 20 others who feel the same way.” The other day my brother and I were on the couch with mom and I jokingly asked her who her favorite child was. She smiled a little and giggled as she said, “Who’s all here?”. As my mom’s only living daughter, I’d like to think I was her favorite. Of course, she made me FEEL like she loved me best but the truth is, my mom didn’t have to play favorites. My teeny mama had a heart as big as a house with plenty of room for all those she loved. I don’t know how she had the time and energy to maintain all the relationships she had. I can only count it as a gift from God that she how to prioritize her life in a way that she was there for so many of us in this room when we needed her most. I have countless memories of times when my mom held my hand and said just the right thing to encourage me, praise me, confront me or challenge me.

I think she had time for all of us because she made time for all of us. I always thought my mom was a pretty decent housekeeper but she was always trying to be better at it. She was always saying, “I just need to get organized!”. One time she told me, “You know what my problem is? If someone calls or drops by, I’d much rather talk to them than finish what I am doing.” Thank goodness she realized that organized cupboards are great but they don’t make good friends. Still, it was always on her mind. Flying home from my brother John’s wedding in New Jersey, the engine of our plane caught on fire and we had to make an emergency landing in Denver. Thinking of other’s first, she turned to my Dad and said, “If you have to save us, save Sonia first.” Then she turned to me and said, “If I die, don’t let anyone see my messy drawers!”

My mom did always put others first. The event in my life that was most meaningful to me was the birth of my twins. As many of you know, Mike accepted a job in Salt Lake City and began commuting there 4 days a week just 14 days after my c-section delivery. I was overwhelmed by my colicky babies and with the showing of my home to potential buyers. Mom, still weak after beating cancer the first time, would arrive on Sunday night and stay for the four days while Mike was gone. She did this for almost 6 months. She gave up her lecturing, her lunches with friends…almost everything…during this time to make sure that I could recover and mentally prepare for my move. We had sweet times together during that crazy time. We laughed and cried, and talked and talked and talked as we rocked Azile and Emilee. I have often thought that I would not have enjoyed one minute of those months had she not been there with me.

Another gift that my mom gave to me is that she loved the people I loved. She took in every one of my friends as one of her own. Granted, most of my friends were lovely people, but there were a couple who were…well, not as wonderful as others…yet, I could always count on my mom to show the people I brought home, her renowned hospitality.

By giving of herself to others, my mom inadvertently gave me another gift that I have appreciated more than ever in the past week. She gave me the gift of many of you. Because Mom was a Godly woman, because she was a good friend, because she opened her heart and home to others, she created an enormous circle of friends that Dad, Paul, John and I think of as family. No one can ever replace my mom in my life, but she made sure I had at least 20 women, all her best friends, who because of their love for her, will grieve with me and love me through this most difficult time in my life.

Thank you all so much for being here today and for that you meant to my mom.

 

Happy Mother’s Day…because whatever our joy, whatever our pain…we are grateful for the women in our lives who have sacrificed to make our lives richer.

Marriage Seminar #6: Date Night

When I started doing things socially with my husband of 27 years…back in 1990…we were not really dating. We had known each other in high school (yes…you all know…he was my high school boyfriend’s friend…it is a story but not what you think) and we were simply hanging out a lot because we were back in our home town, working, without many people we knew who were our own age. I was teaching at California High School and he was in an entry level sales job…fresh out of college. We had money to spend because we were young and didn’t have a lot of expenses. He liked high school football and I liked having a super cute someone to go with me to those games. It took us at least 2 months to finally admit we were thinking it might be a relationship worth investing more in…

Mike and I were raised a little differently. I was raised in the Christian-live-by-guilt home where we were always having to consider the starving child in Africa or China when we bought something not on sale or didn’t eat our peas. Mike’s family knows how to party. There is always a reason to celebrate. When Mike and I started to actually call our relationship something more than “besties”, my heart was overwhelmed as he treated me to dinners, an evening at the ballet (I had never been!), a concert that was not something he necessarily would choose, and a bunch of other super fun stuff.  He would say, “There is a place I think you would like…”

When dating ends and real life begins, there is often a shift in marriage relationships. That may be why counselors often encourage suffering spousal relationships to re-instigate “the date”. Obviously there are major challenges to this when you have kids or are just super busy trying to build a future or a retirement fund. But bringing back the date has saved many relationships from stagnation or becoming that “we are just roommates” horror!

When couples come to me for marriage counseling and I ask about their dating life, 9 out of 10 times, the role of planning anything social has become the wife’s responsibility. And in most of the relationships I am asked to weigh in on, the wife feels like if she didn’t care about connecting emotionally, no one would care. Did you read in my last blog that emotional connectivity is what leads to physical connectivity????….keep reading.

So hubbies out there! Hear me! This is such an easy fix! If you did it well once, you can do it again!!! Date your wife or lose her forever!

Dating as a married couple can actually be easier if you think about it! You already know that your spouse will say yes! You also know what kind of activities they like to do, what kind of food they enjoy and what their calendar looks like most of the time! If you plan time for just the two of you now, the message is simply, “I WANT TO SPEND TIME WITH YOU AND YOU ALONE.”

Here are some guidelines:

Have a date night idea jar: Sit down with your spouse and come up with things you wish you would do together, what restaurants you would like to try, etc. Write them on pieces of paper and fold them up and put them in a jar. Pick one out at the beginning of each month and let the planning begin.

Now that you are married, try taking turns with the planning: We all get busy with life but the job of saving a marriage through time spent together should never fall on just one person. If you are the one planning date night, you also have to get the babysitter. For some reason, a common complaint that I hear is that it takes so much work to get the date organized that it takes the fun out of it. If you alternate the planning, one person gets to just show up!

These times together can be inexpensive or you can choose to splurge: Set a budget for your dating life so that it doesn’t get tossed aside just because the bill for Johnny’s hockey or Brooke’s dance popped up and you can’t justify it. Keep in mind that your kids will be happier in the long run if their parents stay married and they miss an activity as an 8 year old. Also, sometimes saving money one month by just grabbing a coffee or going for a bike ride can put pennies aside for a fancier dinner out or a concert that reminds you of when you met!

Be present emotionally and physically on date night: Remember the effort that you put into date night when you were first going out? You wouldn’t dream of not choosing your outfit carefully or brushing your teeth. You were sure to look your special person in the eyes and talk about more than your crappy day at work. Be a person that is engaging, flirtatious, interesting and a friend who asks good questions. You might be surprised how much fun you have!

My married clients know that I believe that the most important relationship in the home is the one between the two people that are married. There is no other relationship in the home that should compete with it. A family where the parents are working as a team are the happiest families overall…and when there is discord at the top, it is felt by everyone, even the pets…so rekindle that love in one of the easiest fixes out there…date night.

As always, let me know if I can help.

With love,

Sonia

New Normal: Joy in the chronic…

Yesterday was my birthday. I am officially 52 years old. I remember thinking my mom was old when she turned 52 but I thought she was young when she went to be with God at 70. I have no idea if I am young or old right now. I feel both.

I do know that I went to the oncologist on my birthday, and surprisingly, I wasn’t really all that put out by having a doctor’s appointment on my birthday. This was, I am sure, in part because I needed to know that there was improvement in my white blood cell count from the week before. This is my new normal. The receptionist even said, “I know who you are Sonia, you are all checked in.” (Are we friends now or just people in each other’s lives from now until…a long time from now? Oh gosh…I better start remembering her name!)

Last week I had coffee with my friend Susan and she asked me if I think about “it” all the time. Ummm, that would be yes. First thing in the morning and in the moments before I sleep, I think about being “chronic”…and if I am honest, about 100 other times during the day. There is a little weight that sits on my shoulder and only goes away when I am listening deeply to a client or a loved one. I am trying to make that weight my friend and use it to feel, think and live more aware. I am trying to make that weight my new super-power for understanding people better.

So this was interesting timing: A new client called last week and wanted to know if I specialize in chronic pain. I told her that I am not yet an expert in that area, but I do know some people who specialize in treatment for those battling daily bouts of extreme pain. Our short interaction brought to my attention, in a profound way, that people who have long-suffering, whether it is emotional or physical, fall into a category all their own. When there is a timeline associated with a traumatic event, a therapist can utilize so many techniques designed to help a client realize that just because it happened once, doesn’t mean that it will happen again. But someone who is battling a situation that is for the rest of their life…that is different. I am beginning to understand.

When we got the report on Wednesday that showed my WBC numbers scooting back into normal range, I became immediately hope-filled. Mike and I did a victory dance outside the office, took the stairs because our spirits were lifted, and Mike fist-bumped the medical personnel having a conversation in the stairwell. (I chose not to touch anyone who may not have used hand sanitizer in the last few seconds after touching sick people, because those darn white blood cells are still a little bit of a thing.) They too joined in our victory celebration. That trip to the doctor’s office was joyful but I know that I am going to have to remind myself of this joy somewhere down the road of the journey I am on, when the news is scary again and I have to fight a little harder. I have joined the fraternity of people whose story has to be coerced into joyfulness because it wants to take us the other direction.

What ongoing situation in your life tests your limits? What reoccurring emotional battle or physical dilemma will not release its grip some days? Are you able to find joy in the suffering?

James 1:2 reminds us…

”Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy.”

I get it. It was the one day of the year that I should have been at the spa, relaxing, forgetting my troubles. But, because of the Lord’s gracious spirit, I was able to be blessed by those silly numbers…going up just fractions of a point…enough to know that God sees me, in my brokenness and chooses to give me hope on this day…joy on this day. I will take it and celebrate today.

Do you need a little hope too?  Do you have a situation in your life that feels chronic? You need to know that hope can be found, even in the most dire situations of life. I am praying HOPE for my clients, my friends and the world…

As always, let me know if I can help.

With love,

Sonia