Happy 2017 update: I can't keep up with my blogging goals. But I can Instagram. Follow @kzoodbt for DBT-inspired Instagram posts. I promise to be more frequent than my blog posts.
9/28/15 What I Did on Summer Vacation
Summer is always such a strange time for me. I look forward to it for so long and find myself panicking even in the midst of it thinking about its end. I guess that means summer has some serious mindfulness challenges for me and this one was no exception. I had some challenges this summer, some moments of "really??", but I also had many moments of finding joy in simple pleasures. Here are standout moments:
*watching a mother loon and her babies on a lake in Northern MI
*sampling lots and lots of cherry products at Cherry Republic.
*eating with friends.
*climbing a tall dune with my oldest.
*meeting new people to ride (bikes) with and going on long rides.
*doing a jigsaw puzzle with my husband.
*going on a scary slide at a water park.
*hearing about my kids' day-camp experiences.
*swimming with my dog who doesn't really swim.
*swimming in lakes in general.
*collecting beach stones in MI.
*going on rides with my kids despite feeling queasy.
*knitting another hat with my birthday yarn.
*collecting tomatoes from any garden anywhere, but especially my own (non) garden.
*watch a lunar eclipse for a long time from my porch steps (okay this one is technically fall-)
These were some of the things that stand-out about this summer. It gives me joy just writing about them, remembering them again. So I'm also reminded not to be complacent about joy, to actively attend to it and that perhaps that is what summer is best for- it recharges us a bit. It gets us into "joy-seeking" shape for the darker months ahead. Perhaps in these darker months I'll revisit this list for inspiration.
September 2014: Why I love obstacle endurance events.
So we've just returned from finishing our 2nd Tough Mudder (TM) event- a 13 mile mud run flanked with obstacles including crawling under barbed wire, hauling yourself over plastic tubes, and jumping into 33 degree ice water to navigate getting under a plank to the other side. I suppose I should also mention the 50 foot vertical slide through fire and the final run through live wires and hay bales. Today's event included what would be the toughest obstacle for me- chilly temperatures and patches of horizontal [cold] rain.
When I tell people I do these kinds of events, particularly the TM- I often feel like I am sharing with them something that makes me seem crazy. Like why would anyone willingly pay to endure this kind of stuff? I'll share my reasons here from the perspective of a DBT therapist. I emphasize this perspective because it is so central to who I am and the event illuminates more DBT skills than I can possibly describe here. Specific skills are in bold.
First, there is the recognition of the dialectic (taking a dialectical perspective) of helping others while helping oneself. While recognizing this is a "for profit" event, I do appreciate the emphasis the organizers place on helping others (a portion of their proceeds goes towards the Wounded Warrior Organization) while pushing oneself. The event is meant to challenge endurance athletes of all caliber while also promoting camaraderie and helping others over the idea of racing for time and personal gain. This message promotes me choosing this event over others that are clear they do not support the idea of running an "untimed" race. The event itself is very much about helping and working cooperatively with others. There are multiple obstacles that are impossible to complete without actively accepting help from and offering help to others. One is called the "warped wall" which is a curved, slippery wall about 12 feet high. Its towards the end of the event, so you're muddy and tired. But at the top of this wall are always multiple participants waiting to catch you as you run up and there is something very powerful about literally being pulled up by someone else- possibly your teammate, possibly a stranger. It also feels really good to do the same for someone else.
Building Mastery- For me, building mastery includes doing/trying new things. As the group that I ran with, the final heat of the event, prepared to start, we got the pep talk given by the same high-energy gentleman dressed in combat fatigues with a pink "F*** Cancer" patch on his arm. He shared his appreciation of what we runners brought to the event and challenged us to put helping each other first and to do something each week we could say we did "for the first time". I don't know how many speeches he made this day, or this month, but it affected me. I took his challenge seriously.
Self-Care/PLEASE skills: I have found endurance training to be one of the most restorative, therapeutic activities in my life and it was training for my first TM that really planted this seed for me. I found a new level of body appreciation as I witnessed how I responded both mentally and physically to cross-training and doing things that keep me interested and challenged.
Mindfulness and Radical Acceptance- these skills in their glory were on full display during this year's event. The weather was really bad (for running 13 miles and doing things like jumping into ice water), not like last year's event which was in June. This year it was a blustery, rainy day in September with sun peaking out just enough to make you wish for more. I was more scared by this than any obstacle. That and the presence of some hormonally-induced cramps made me want to shake a fist and yell "WHY??" "Why today??" and then "Where are you, sun?? I demand you make yourself come out now or I'm going to be very irritated!" I realized quickly I was going to have to activate my radical acceptance power button. The bottom line was the event was today and I was going to finish it and I could either run it shaking my fist at the sky (which would take up more energy and change my focus) or I could run it looking at where I needed to go. Getting through the event with horizontal rain driving at my face at times made me feel like I'd really overcome something. And it made me appreciative there was no hail (sneaking in a little comparisons here).
As I had done this event the year prior I had some knowledge of certain obstacles that induce discomfort. The one I was most worried about for this event is called "Artic Enema" and it involves jumping into a huge vat of ice-water (yes they dump truckloads of ice into it) and submerging yourself so you can get under a wooden plank. You're not supposed to take more than a few seconds to do this or your muscles stop working to get you out. Last year it was so much colder than I thought it would be in my mind and a teammate assisted me out because I had trouble getting up the "out" ladder. I was dreading doing this on this cold rainy day. I noticed a very direct relationship between my level of thought placed on this obstacle ahead and my level of immediate misery. I told myself repeatedly just to keep my eyes and thoughts on what I was doing in the moment. Pockets of contentment found places to rest around me. And when we did get to that particular obstacle, I'm pleased to report I "just did it", using more of the strategy learned from the year before (jump FAR!!) and it, much to my surprise, wasn't that bad. I got out on my own and even my perception of the cold around me changed (cold rain feels warm coming out of ice water!) It was also helpful to see all the other people going through the same thing around me (comparisons again- maybe vicarious validation?).
And how could I have done any of this without ample doses of opposite action, mostly to the emotion of fear. For those in the DBT world, you might counter that my fear was justified, that there really was a threat to my health and safety. It's true there is real danger and people do get hurt- I don't discount that. I do think that with proper preparation and self-awareness (each year participants have to be reminded to skip water obstacles if they don't know how to swim and some still don't), the risks are mitigated and for me and my body, I believe this kind of event is physically less dangerous than running a marathon or riding my bike any distance in traffic. So this is a choice I make. It doesn't mean I don't get scared, though. Mainly, it's fear of the unknown (how is this going to feel?) and there is no remedy for fear of the unknown other than making it known. I rarely have opportunity to address this in this clear a fashion in my day-to-day life.
I also had a blast hanging out with people I really enjoy and the celebration at the end is like none other. And I now know I can carry a 195lb man 50 yards.
June 2014 When Things are Off
These past couple of months have included some tough times- stressors related to events both negative and positive. I have been thinking about the skills I've been relying on to weather these storms and it's been on my mind to share some of my experience. One thing that I've noticed is my noticing. I know, that sounds funny, doesn't it? But it seems sometimes like certain DBT skills pop out of the background right up to your face when needed. That makes them sound magical, but that's not my intention. I think that by continuing one's personal practice with mindfulness and other DBT skills, one develops a kind of flow with these skills that allows for them to move more seamlessly into life when called on. For me, it's been the emotion regulation skill of observing emotion that has felt so necessary of late. The other day it dawned on me that I was feeling worry and fear. It felt validating to acknowledge to myself, "you know, I think you may be scared here". The intensity wasn't high (about a 4 on a 10 point scale) but it was there and if I had gone to "you shouldn't feel scared, this isn't really that big a deal", I think it would have compounded the anxiety and worry. I liken this to how kindling works, when two sticks are on fire and next to each other, they can continue to ignite each other even when the flame is out. I knew that in that moment, allowing the feeling to just "be" was what I needed to do. I didn't go the full mile and begin to observe where the feeling showed up in my body; honestly, I didn't think I needed to (maybe because the intensity wasn't that high). I just allowed it to be without running from it or trying to change it in that moment. I felt...human. And in my human fallibility I felt more connected to others and to myself, which, ironically, makes it more bearable.
12/24/13: Holidays and after.
I sit in Chicago O’hare Airport reflecting on the whirlwind that the lead-in to Christmas has been and what’s to come as my family flies to California to visit a beloved friend and her family. As I write I notice the thought “it’s been so long since you last posted a blog entry- what will people think?” I tell myself, just write.
I reflect on my experience of my youngest child- I can be so frustrated and so enamored with his behavior in the span of just seconds. Just before he shot his soda across the floor in a wild gush of orange drink fizzing within inches of another person’s bag he completely charmed me when, after I told him he couldn’t drink from my drink (he is getting over a cold) he said, “that’s fine”. He is life personified. Sometimes maddening, sometimes achingly beautiful.
I love the California landscape- gorgeous rolling hills, mountains, water. We were blessed with vast amounts of sunshine and warm temperatures while there which was, of course, delightful. But I also noticed some of the Californians I conversed with seemed to have a fear of having to deal with any other kind of weather. An airline staff checking our bags as we were leaving (heading from 60 degree temps to negative ones in the midwest, hit by the polar vortex) seemed to go on and on about how awful it was in Chicago and how she could never go back to feeling cold like that. In the moment I found it annoying (and insensitive) but now that I think back on it, I feel more sympathetic. I mean, I get it, who wouldn't become very attached to traditionally "pleasant" weather? But it started to dawn on me that the range of weather experiences we have here in Michigan makes me appreciate certain moments so exquisitely- appreciate them in a way I never could if it were sunny and 70 every day here.
Two moments from this past weekend stand out to me in terms of winter appreciation- After a dinner party where we enjoyed a rustic, decidedly winter-appropriate menu, an adventurous friend and I went on a late-night hike in the woods. We walked though quiet streets blanketed in fresh snow. We walked around a lake and saw trees against moonlight. It was magical and not cold at all (moving outside in the winter- if dressed appropriately-works wonders against cold). The other moment was at our annual winter "carnival"- a neighborhood get-together where we all converge in a small park to play games, sled, drink hot chocolate, and eat cookies. As we were leaving I grabbed our frisbee thinking "why not??". Playing frisbee in the knee-deep snow was ***AWESOME***. So much fun. Such an incredibly stand out moment that was only allowed in the icy deliciousness of winter.
There are several things that I've noticed over the past year or so that act to inform me that my life is out of balance. When my "shoulds" are out of ratio to my "wants" it creates a certain emotional and physical tenor in my life: I feel rushed, more prone to anxiety, more fatigued, more impatient...I could go on. There are a few key signals that I'm in such a state: one physiological signal is that a low-level eye twitch makes a return. I can feel it sometimes, ever so faint, flutter around my eyelid. Sometimes it's not even when I'm doing something that is, in that moment, stressful. It tends to come when things are, overall, imbalanced. This is physiologic and fairly clear. I take notice when it happens.
The other signals are more subtle: I stop cooking as much. When things are imbalanced I find myself opening a lot more cans and freezer bags, throwing food together in a rush. I know this is a common practice and I have no problem eating stuff from cans: but I hold value in attention to cooking whole foods that have as great a quantity of fresh nutrients as possible. So when 80% of what's on my plate does not meet that criteria I know something is up.
The other more subtle signal is the noticed absence of music.
Music is important to me in so many ways. I used to be pretty attached to holding an identity as a musician and while this identity is no longer as salient to me, it's still really important to me to stay connected to playing guitar and writing the occasional song. It's like a language I once spoke and don't want to lose. Listening to music is also very important to me and I love experimenting with new radio stations to hit on something I've never heard before. When I stop doing these things, as easy as they may sound to do, I know that things are out of balance.
So here I've named my biggies: eye twitch, prepared food overload, and lack of music. What are yours? Think about how you might want to use your barometer to inform you and get you motivated to slow down, cook something, and put on your favorite record (a metaphorical term here, IPOD, mp3, CD, whatever). I'm about to turn on some BBC Radio 6!
This is a short one because this week is crazy busy. I'm getting ready to teach my weekend workshop course: Understanding, Assessing, and Treating Eating Disorders. As if this can be taught in a weekend. If there's one thing I want to get across in the weekend is that this can't be understood in a weekend. This is where my passion lies and where I struggle sometimes to find my own sense of support as I do my very best to guide my clients towards recovery. I re-watched several films, trying to figure out which parts to show during the course. One of them is the HBO documentary, Thin. This film highlights the eating disorder identity (where I want to focus my writing this year) and how very difficult it is to challenge. I just read that one of the women featured in the documentary committed suicide a couple of years after the film was made. This made me deeply deeply sad; but in my sadness I also found this update from Shelly, another woman featured. I found solace in her words and hope that others may too. Surrender....such an important word. To surrender requires such courage, and yet, it is so clear that staying stuck in the eating disorder is so rooted in fear and literal emptiness.
Some words from Shelly:
I cannot say why I decided to get better, but a few months ago something just “clicked”. In AA they say a person has a spiritual awakening, but because I don’t like that term and I was never like Moses and saw a burning bush, I am just going to go with my Clicking Theory. I had hit an all time low. I was depressed, anxious, malnourished, and I was addicted to benzodiazipines. I realized I had to do something or I would die. Honestly, I really thought death was the only way I was going to get over this, I almost welcomed it. But deep down inside I knew I didn’t want to die, but I deeply believed I couldn’t get better. I kept telling myself over and over again, “you have tried and you have failed everytime.” But had I really tried? Had I really surrendered and given recovery every ounce of energy I had? The answer again was simple…No, I had not.
I surrendered and it was quite possibly the scariest thing I had ever done. I realized I had to put aside my preoccupation with weight, food, body image, thinness and everything else that comes along with an eating disorder, once and for all. I was terrified because I knew without all those distractions I would be force to feel. Feelings I had not allowed myself to feel in so long were powerful. I felt uncomfortable because I had not felt anything for so long. The amount of anxiety I felt scared me and I several times I thought about quitting, turning back to starving and purging. But I knew I couldn’t. This was my time and I knew something greater than myself would get me through it. My confidence was shaky and many times I didn’t believe I could do it, but I just kept telling myself over and over again that I could no matter what I really believed. The power of positive self-talk has sustained me in my recovery.
So I took part in pretty much my first ever activism with community event: 1 Billion Rising. This was Valentine's Day. I've been eager to write about it every day since it happened but life has been pretty hectic since then. So I'm doing it now.
Some friends and I went to see Eve Ensler speak at K College last summer; she was talking about the power of theater and tying her work as a playwright and activist to challenging the global atrocity of violence against women and girls. She is an amazing speaker and, not surprisingly, we were all incredibly moved by her accounts of travelling to some of the most violent places on the planet with the aim of helping these women and hearing their stories. I think we were all somewhat awed by how Eve keeps going under the weight of so much trauma. Her presentation enacted how she keeps going: she moved, danced, sang poetry, and made connection with an auditorium filled with others. It was evident that this was what fueled her with hope. At that event she told us all about 1 Billion Rising and encouraged us all to take part. We sat outside in the mosquito-filled air and said we would do this.
And so we did. Luckily, one of us had grown up in a family where social justice organization was modeled so she knew what to do. Another of us also had some of that experience and a lot of energy, so she co-led the front. We started with about 5 of us rehearsing the flash-mob dance in my living room and taking notes on how we could promote this cause. I admit, I was skeptical: I thought there very well might be this same 5 of us at the event and what would we really accomplish just by doing this box-step, pivot, rodeo, kick-ball-change, kick-ball-change? The ex-actor in me asked out loud "so what's our motivation again?". My friend didn't skip a beat: "we're going to take a stand and move our bodies in public and bring attention to this problem. We're going to disrupt rape-culture, we're going to be heard, and we're going to ask others to commit to the same". Oh, okay!
As we got closer to the event I watched it gather momentum and power and it did bring me energy and hope. I didn't make the scheduled outdoor rehearsal but I marveled that many did! There were even photographs of it in the media. I kept rehearsing, talking to my 2 sons about the event and what they could do to help, buying art supplies to make signs, eliciting my husband's help to construct the signs, and taking the opportunity to go from blonde to red (we all wore red & black for the event). I used to be a deep red before motherhood and marriage. It's a color that requires a certain spirit and attention. it felt like going home.
On Valentine's Day we met at Bronson Park and danced, sang, spoke truth to power, and most importantly of all: connected with each other. The weather wasn't great but no one cared. As I walked to the band-shell with my 2 boys trying in vain to hold their signs (they laughed as the wind literally blew them into their faces multiple times), there were smiles on every face I saw. It felt...awesome. Taking part in this event was so much more than I hoped for. It really was empowering and energizing and a light-bulb indeed illuminated this brain that is as vulnerable to cynicism as any. This is what it's about.
I work with women (and men) affected by violence and gender-oppression every single day. It's part of my work as a psychologist. And I do feel like this individual work matters and is important. But this act of connecting with community, and linking this connection with community back to my very private work in the relatively safe space of my office, felt significant. It challenged me to wake up to this power of connection and community and not to lose hope for what can be accomplished when we do. When we go back to red. When we let our friends carry us a bit. When we laugh, cry, yell, take up space without shame.
Energy + Love = Hope=Change
2/2/13: I'm over over-weight.
So lately I've been thinking about the term "over-weight" and how I don't like it. I'll tell you why. Because that label doesn't give real information about what is going on with someone's health or well-being. The "over" part refers a set of charts and figures that may or may not correspond to the person being at a weight that doesn't fit them. While I believe the BMI (body mass index) number is a solid indicator of when someone is under-weight, the numbers that correspond to being "over" weight aren't as accurate (they don't take into account muscle mass and the thresholds for being considered over-weight were influenced by the diet industry; dubious).
So I am trying to come up with a term that makes more sense to me as I work with clients and weight is part of what we are addressing. The one that I keep coming around to is "authentic weight". As in: are you are the weight that matches your physiology given a balanced relationship with food and physical activity? As in, not artificially deflated by restricting, compulsive exercise, or other behaviors and not artificially inflated by binge-eating, restricting the type of food eaten, or not moving one's body enough.
I don't know if this is the term that will stick, but I'm going to keep playing around with it.
When I worked in community mental health in chicago we were "treated" to free flu shots given by our friendly, caring nurse, Della (hi Della, miss your cheery smile). To be honest, my starting
salary was so low I felt like getting in line for any free perks was an essential morale boost, so I would usually be first to sign up. This was lucky for me because it did a lot to reduce any
apprehension I had about getting poked (exposure works, people!) Honestly, most times I've barely realized the shot is done though I choose not to watch the process. So-knock on wood- I have not
gotten the flu probably since the late 1990's. Now I have had wicked bronchitis and strep, but my flu
shots have done their job. These days I pay out of pocket in whatever store gets them first and feel good about doing it. It feels like self-care.
Dropping my oldest off at school the other day I leaned down to hug him and he caught me full on the mouth with a kid-cold-kiss. Oops. This kind of exposure isn't so great. Sure 'nuff 2 days later my eyes are watery & pressured from sinus-y cold. I told my kid and he said, "sorry, but at least it's not a virus".
But if there is a silver lining to catching your kid's cold it's having an excuse to think about ways you care for yourself when you have one. My mind immediately turns to soup. I love soup- all
kinds. It feels so restorative, so much like truly caring for yourself when you make it and eat it (or just eat it). A friend of mine regularly gathers a group of us together to exchange soups.
It's called, aptly, Soup Club. We
each go home with about 5 or 6 different soups and mine usually don't make it to the freezer as I can seem
to eat them at all times of day.
For this cold my self-care called for spicy soup from our local Indonesian restaurant. As I unwrapped the steamy concoction I felt so grateful to have access to such a good self-care potion. I encourage you to think of ways you care for yourself when under the weather, or even just coasting at baseline.
When was thelast time you had a nice bowl of soup?
1/8/13: Life Worth Living
In my practice, I often draw from my background in Dialectical Behavior Therapy or DBT. A core part of DBT is helping those often struggling with high levels of misery to create a "life worth living". In other words, the pieces of life that keep you going, get you up in the morning, provide you with a sense of hope when you think about them. Even when questions like these seem easy to answer, there are multiple challenges in our lives that can interfere with us having the life we want to have. Increased demands on our time and a common feeling of needing to be close to perfection in all realms of life can lead to feeling overwhelmed, paralyzed, and sometimes hopeless. In the aim of creating a life worth living, I often find myself talking with clients about changing a goal such as “decreasing depression” to one that isn’t so much about “decreasing” as it is about “increasing” something: in this case, positive events which lead to positive feelings. So how do we do that? One way is to change our notion of happiness as something that should “just happen”; that happiness will fall down from the sky like rain if we’re just patient enough or if we deserved it more. Positive emotions are linked to positive events and we have more control over these events than we know. Getting behaviorally active by scheduling positive events can lead to increasing feelings of joy and satisfaction. Start by making a list of activities that are pleasing to you now (if someone is very depressed and has a hard time identifying what brings them joy, I might ask them to list what did before the depression occurred). Some examples include-knitting, talking with friends, walking in a new place, visiting a pet adoption center, listening to a favorite CD, getting up early enough to watch a sunset, swimming, baking cookies…this list could go on for pages. What would your list look like? Having a list of activities that bring you pleasure is only the first step (but an important one). The next step is giving yourself permission (okay, more than permission, encouragement) to do at least one thing each day that increases positive emotion. Achieving even the smallest goal of doing one pleasant activity each day helps to build our sense of mastery over our world, which is key to increasing self-esteem and building, one small stone at a time, a life worth living.