THE BEST PARENTS ARE REAL, NOT PERFECT

I have been a parent for 20 years, and if nothing else, I have learned how flawed I am as a human being.  And I’m ok with that.  I love owning that I am flawed – it relieves so much pressure.  I have also learned that the best think I can do for my kids is to show them how to live as a flawed person on this planet rather than try to be a perfect parent.  I used to think I had to model for my kids how to be perfectly grounded and emotionally balanced, how to always be selfless and generous, how to always be in control, and to always have a great attitude.  Well, let’s just say I am not all those things all the time, so all it did was teach my kids that I was good at faking a lot of things.  Not really something I want my kids to value – being a fraud.  So here are a few things I am teaching my kids instead:

1.      There is a lot of processing that goes on in my head before I know what to do.  To let my kids in on the way I figure things out, instead of keeping the process in my head I do it out loud.  Now, be prepared, when you start talking out loud to no one in particular, you are going to get some funny looks and your kids might slowly back away from you in an attempt to move to safety.  But seriously, they can’t read our minds.  So how will they know how to mull things around, or how to process different options if we keep it to ourselves?  It does our kids no favors for them to think that we always have the right answer instantly.  They will always feel like they are not smart enough or not quick enough to figure problems out.  Let them in on the secret – there is a lot of thinking that goes on before we have answers.  Think out loud in front of them.  If nothing else, it will provide some entertainment!

2.     Sometimes I am cranky and it has nothing to do with them.  I don’t know why, but in the past, I had a hard time owning when I was grumpy.   I felt the need to blame it on something or someone, which was usually my kids.  If they would just be quieter or if their room wasn’t so messy or if they weren’t so dang picky then I wouldn’t be grumpy!  The truth is, sometimes I am just cranky.  Usually it’s because I am tired or hungry, and sometimes I have no idea at all why, but now I own it.  As soon as I realize I am out of sorts, I own it and tell my kids that it’s not about them, but I am a little cranky so they might want to give me a little space.  I am trying to teach them we don’t always have to blame someone else when we are upset (as satisfying as that might be).  I am not always happy and content, and that’s ok. 

3.     It’s ok for my kids to see how I get grounded.  I have been meditating for about 12 years now, and in the beginning, I thought I had to do it when no one was watching.  I have no idea why, maybe I was just self-conscious, but if I heard someone coming down the hall when I was meditating I would jump up quickly and pretend like I was doing something else.  How silly is that?  Now I tell my kids – “I need a few minutes to meditate and get centered”, and I go in my room and do just that.  If someone comes in, I don’t jump up, I continue meditating.  I suppose it’s about being afraid I am going to be made fun of or being insecure, which apparently, we never outgrow!  I have decided it’s worth the risk of being laughed at though, in order to model for my kids something that really helps me achieve more balance in my life.

4.     Sometimes even moms say unkind things about people.  We try to teach our kids to always be kind and not say mean things, and that is an excellent thing to teach.  And sometimes even moms fall short and say not nice things about someone.  Yes, I may have made the occasional snarky comment about a supermodel looking woman obviously having too much time to spend in front of the mirror, or clearly never having been pregnant, and my kids may have heard said comments.  So, I swallow my pride and admit that I only said those things out of envy because I really wish my stomach didn’t look like it had been stretched out 5 times well beyond its capacity.  I am not saying that we excuse unkind words or let them be ok.  I’m saying that we all do it, and rather than pretending that we don’t, let’s show our kids how to own our words and make repairs when necessary.  When I say something less than nice, I almost always say something like “wow that was really mean.  I think I will just keep my words to myself until I have something worth saying.”  Or I admit that I’m feeling a little unworthy in some way, but that’s no excuse for bringing someone else down.  If we don’t show our kids what to do when we make a mistake, it’s not going to prevent them from making mistakes, it’s going to prevent them from making things right. 

I love being a mom.  I love it even more when I realize that being a mom doesn’t mean I have to be perfect.  Being a mom means I get to show my kids how to handle imperfection in the most graceful way I can.  I guess when you really thing about it, we have an obligation to make mistakes just so we can teach our kids how to learn from them!  How awesome is that?

WHAT IS DIVORCE COUNSELING?

            People often ask me what divorce counseling is; what do I actually do with clients?  I love when people ask me this because I am so passionate about this aspect of my practice.  I love to explain all the ways I can help people put their lives back together after a crisis like divorce.

BASIC NEEDS

One of the first things I do when I meet with a client is to assess where he/she is in terms of having their basic needs taken care of.  Do they have a financial plan or do we need to work on some budgeting?  Do they have housing in place or do they need some support going through the process of renting or buying or selling?  Many people have never been completely in charge of their own finances (or shoes hanging over edge woman clutching handsat least not for a very long time), and many people have never signed a lease or gone through the process of buying/selling a house on their own.  These things can be overwhelming when you are already emotionally drained from going through a divorce, so I help my clients with some very practical things like budgeting and housing, as well at other things like how to find a mechanic, or how to get the utilities put into their own name.  Things that might seem simple when life is calm, suddenly become overwhelming when divorce takes over your life.  I have a great network of professionals whom I can refer you to when you need something beyond my expertise. 

EMOTIONS

This is the part many people think of when they think of counseling.  Lots of working through a wide array of emotions.  The advantage of doing this with a counselor rather than friends or family is that I am impartial, I have no need to try and fix anything for you or find a quick solution, and there is no judgment.  You can be angry, hateful, sad, happy, relieved, or whatever it is you are feeling, and I will be there to listen, support, and help you heal.  Often you will think that you have finished processing through something, only to find it comes back around again and you need to work through it in a new way.  I will listen and support you for as long as it takes and I will never tell you to “just get over it and move on.”

NEW IDENTITY

No matter how long you have been married, your identity became tied up with being a husband or wife to another person.  You arranged your life around being that person’s partner, whether it be changing friendships, incorporating in-laws into your life, becoming a parent, maybe even changing your job to accommodate your relationship.  Now, you are no longer someone’s husband or wife, you may be a single parent, you may not have a way to support yourself financially, your friendships are different, your home life is different.  Who are you? 

These are things we will sort out in counseling.  We may explore new career paths, do some inventories to find what you might be good at or enjoy.  We may look at education – is this the right time to further your education and how can we make that work.  You might need help transitioning from being a fulltime mom to being a financial provider.  That will be a huge shift on many levels that we will work through.  Your social network will probably be turned upside down so we will figure out how you can figure out who your friends are and how to get the support you need.

ORGANIZATION AND GOALS

When you are going through a divorce or are newly divorced, it can feel like your brain is in a fog and not quite awake.  It can be hard to organize your day, to figure out what you need to do next.  We will make lots of lists and prioritize things that need to be done, and help you figure out systems to keep yourself on track even when you are emotionally drained.  I can be your back up brain when yours needs some rest. 

GENERAL HEALTH

It is so easy to let things slide like eating and exercise when your life has been turned into something unrecognizable to you.  Unfortunately, that just leads to a deeper dive into anxiety, depression, fogginess, and generally feeling exhausted.  I will try to help you find ways to supply your body with what it needs to keep going in the easiest way possible so that you don’t have to put too much work into it.  Just like putting the proper fuel into your car rather than water, it’s important to give your body good fuel or it won’t run any better than a car with a tank full of water.  If you need more help in that area than I can offer, I have a great team of nutrition and exercise experts ready to support you as well.

 

There really is a great deal that goes into divorce counseling.  Yes, there is the expected part about working through emotions, but there is so much more.  You really are not alone, there is so much I can support you with and guide you through so that you can not only survive, but hopefully come out better on the other side.

 

 

GUIDED MEDITATION FOR SURVIVORS OF ABUSE

calm ocean rippleGuided meditations are very popular among people wanting some help with their meditation practice.  Having someone guide your meditation can help you stay focused, and when your mind wanders it can be easier to come back to someone’s voice rather than just your own quiet breath.  Another advantage is that there are guided meditations on so many topics that it is easy to find something that applies to whatever you might need support with.  There are meditations for relaxation, forgiveness, pain management, motivation, finding inner peace, and so on.  If you want your meditation to be focused on something in particular, or if you have a goal in mind for the meditation, guided work can be very helpful.

The difficult part for survivors of abuse can be letting go and letting someone else have influence in your head.  As a survivor of abuse, you know what it feels like to have absolutely no control.  You know what it feels like to be powerless over your body, your thoughts, your feelings, and your future. Please note that I said that you know what it FEELS like to be powerless over these things, not that you actually ARE powerless over your future.  During the times, the abuse is happening the truth is that you are powerless over your body and the immediate future of what happens to you, but you may feel like you are powerless over the rest of your life.  You may feel like you have become damaged beyond repair, and that damage will cast a long, dark shadow over your entire future.  It can feel like the abuser has not only stolen the moments during the abuse, the they have also stolen your future happiness, your future trust, your future everything. 

The abuser has a way of getting into the survivor’s head, even if no words were spoken.  There may have been overt messages during the abuse – the abuser may have told the child how worthless he/she was, or that the child made him/her do it, or that the child had it coming.  There may have been a barrage of insults thrown at the child before, during and after the abuse.  There may have been nothing said at all, but the survivor knows exactly what would have been said.  The child fills in the blanks with all the thing he/she assumes the abuser is thinking, and so the abuser doesn’t even need to say a word to get the message across.  The child will tell himself that he is worthless, that the abuse is his fault, that he deserves what is happening, that other kids aren’t doing these things, that he has a duty to please the abuser – the list is endless.  So, whether or not the abuser uses actual words or not, the messages get in the survivor’s head.

WHY WOULD I LET SOMEONE TELL ME WHAT TO THINK?

Doesn’t it make sense, then, that we would be hesitant to let someone feed us messages and things to think about when we are supposed to be in a relaxed, open, vulnerable state?  During meditation, we are letting our defenses down; we are turning inward and not toward the outside world scanning for danger.  This state in and of itself can be quite challenging for survivors.  In meditation, at least the kind of meditation I am talking about, we are not trying to attain an altered state of being, we are still fully present and conscious, but we are also attempting to turn our attention inward.  This is usually a shift for survivors, especially if you are early in your recovery work. 

Honoring that we are allowing ourselves to be in a vulnerable state, it is wise to be cautious about the words that we let in when we are in this state.  Those words can have a lot of impact.  I have found that some clients absolutely refuse to do guided meditations because they don’t want to let someone have the power to influence their thoughts so deeply.  For someone who has not experienced abuse this can be difficult to understand.  These folks find it calming to let someone else guide their thoughts and their experience.  They find it much easier to do guided meditations rather than self-guided meditation.  Survivors can feel left out and wonder if there is something wrong with them because they have so much resistance to guided work.  You are not crazy, doing it wrong, being difficult or a bad meditator if you struggle with guided meditations.  In your world with your experiences, it makes perfect sense.

SO, WHAT ARE YOUR OPTIONS?

If guided meditation is something you are interested in, it is worth the effort to adapt it to your needs.  Some things that can be helpful are to have a friend record a meditation so that the voice is one that you trust and are familiar with.  It is also very helpful to start slow, don’t try to tackle a long meditation all at once – maybe just start with 5 or 10 minutes for the first several sessions.  Keeping your eyes open initially might also be helpful.  It can help you orient to the present moment, reminding you where you are in time and space.  To begin with, pick a lighter topic like relaxation rather than something like forgiveness that might be more triggering.

If you are in therapy, seek support from your therapist and let him/her know what you are doing.  That way if something gets triggered you will both be more prepared to handle it.  You may even want to try guided meditations with your therapist to begin with until you feel safer with the process.  If you are not in therapy, you may want to let a close friend know that you are starting a new practice that might be triggering so that he/she can be ready to give any added support you might need. 

Trust your instincts and take things at your own pace.  If you try it and it does not feel right, let it go for now and try again another time.  Guided meditation can be helpful, but only at the right time and under the right circumstances for you.  May you find healing in your practice of meditation.

 

 

 

SELLING PARENTING

parent bowling with child happy            I recently read something that compared parenting to sales.  The book was totally unrelated to parenting, so at first I didn’t really think too much about it, but later the concept started to nag at me. Are parents really salespeople?  How do I feel about that?  Am I offended? Am I curious?  What does that really mean?

            To be honest, my immediate response was that I was offended.  As parents I thought we were supposed to lead, educate, mold, and discipline our children, aren’t we?  We show them by example and when they don’t get the hint then we TELL them what to do.  We don’t wait for them to decide they are going to buy into this being an obedient kid thing, we expect them to do it.  I admit it, that was my parenting ego jumping in and asserting her opinion.  It was also a stereotypical view of a pushy, slick salesperson.  I am a parent, not a slick salesperson who has no morals and just wants me to buy something I don’t need! 

            After a few seconds of being on my soapbox, I stepped down and let my higher self weigh in on the conversation.  That’s the part of me that looks at things with curiosity and less judgment.  I decided to expand my idea of salespeople.  Yes, there are those who don’t listen and just come in with lots of practiced lines and don’t relent until you either buy something or you have to get downright rude to get rid of them.  But that’s not what good sales is all about.  Sales is about getting in your customer’s shoes, taking on his/her perspective, and seeing what their needs are.  A good sales person will look at things from your perspective and then find the best fit for your needs.  They will follow up to see how things are going and attempt to correct any problems.  They will be polite, respectful and friendly.  Of course, their aim is to sell you something because that is how they make their living.  But if they sell you a defective product or something you hate, then how likely are you to go back to them or recommend them to someone else?  Their livelihood depends in large part upon their reputation, repeat customers and referrals.  So, it doesn’t make sense for them to sell you something you will hate and then tell everyone you know that they are terrible.  The basic idea is that you do want to buy something which is why you are there (unless we are talking about telemarketers, which we are not), so why not find the product or service that best fits your needs?

            Let’s look at those ideas in terms of parenting.  I absolutely think as parents we need to walk in our children’s shoes frequently.  As adults, our brains and emotions work one way, and our children’s brains and emotions work differently.  If we try to impose the logic of our more evolved brain to that of a much less evolved brain we are not likely to get the results we want.  For example, if we tell our 6th grader he needs to get good grades because it will benefit him in the future, we aren’t likely to get a lot of buy-in because the part of their brain that can plan for the future is still developing.  Some kids might get this concept, but for the most part their world is much more immediate until that part of their brain develops more, which won’t be until their early 20’s.  It’s not his fault and he is not purposely being difficult, the wiring just isn’t there.  So, a good salesperson would take on the perspective of someone who needs more immediate reasons to get good grades because that’s what their biology requires.

            What about the toddler who has a tantrum at the market?  Our goal is to get them to behave and not cause a scene, right?  We are trying to “sell” them on the idea of being polite in the market.  Being a good salesperson, we would look at things from her perspective and figure out what she needs to “buy” our idea.  First, is she hungry?  Adults can put off being hungry but a toddler can’t.  Her blood sugar levels affect her greatly, and she has no control over her behavior if her blood sugar is too low.  Also, if she is hungry, that’s a little mean to take her to a place full of what she needs but tell her she can’t have it.  Her world is still limited to food, nurturing, and emotions that she can’t control.  Her body is simple – feed it frequently, give it lots of rest and lots of activity.  As a salesperson wanting her to buy into the idea of behaving at the market, it is our job to make sure her body has what it needs first.  She depends on us for this; she is not yet able to do it herself. 

            Checking in after the “sale” as a parent doesn’t mean getting your kid’s approval on your parenting.  To me it means checking to see how they are doing, what’s going on in their world so that we can continue to see life through their eyes.  If we know they are being teased at school it makes their moody behavior at home much more understandable.  We can then figure out the “product” that is the best fit for them.  Maybe they need some help with self-esteem.  Or maybe they need help with some words for when they get teased.  Or maybe it is more serious and we need to step in.  The point is, knowing their need helps us adjust our parenting to fit the situation.  And then we can check in to see if the intervention or “product” is working, or if we need to adjust something. 

            I think too often we miss the very basics of being friendly, polite and respectful.  We want to make sure we are seen as their parent and the one in charge. Since when does that mean being rude and unfriendly?  I am much more likely to follow a leader who is respectful and friendly to me than I am someone who is a jerk.  Our kids are no different.  They respond to being treated kindly.  Fear of parents is not the same as respect.  Fear will only go so far.  If you want them to “buy” something, don’t alienate them right off the bat by talking to them in a way that immediately shuts them down or puts them on the defensive.  You want them to stay engaged, to listen to you.  Talk to them in a manner that would make you want to listen.  It will probably work with them as well.

            Perhaps the idea of being salespeople is not that far off.  At the very least, borrowing some tools from the sale profession might help us be better parents. I think the things we are trying to instill in our kids will last a lot longer if we set up the conditions for them to want to buy what we are selling.  This is not to replace the times when discipline is required, or in other unusual circumstances. In general, though, just like salespeople who have several different products, we have a lot to offer as parents, and finding the best way to offer that to our children can’t hurt. 

 

For more parenting help give me a call or send me an email.  I would love to help!

Gwen Bartran, MA, LPC

gbartran@msn.com

970-988-6978

           

ARE YOU GOING TO MAKE ME FAT?

 

            Even if you don’t say those words out loud, I can see them in your eyes.  That is one of the biggest fears, if not THE biggest fear of those who come to see me for help with an eating disorder.  I recognize that look because I saw it in the mirror right before I went to every counseling session.  That thought went through my head when I went to see my dietician.  I just knew there was a conspiracy to make me fat.  That’s all anyone wanted, I was sure of it. 

            Never mind the fact that you are probably losing hair, you get winded walking up the stairs, your skin is dry and flakey, your brain feels like it’s in a fog most of the time, you get chest pains sometimes, and you can’t eat even when you want to.  Never mind that you are miserable both physically and emotionally.  The worst thing you can imagine is going to counseling or treatment and becoming fat.  It sounds crazy to people on the outside, but I get it.  Even if the rest of the world falls apart, at least you are thin.  Even if I couldn’t do whatever it was I thought was important at the time, it didn’t matter because at least I could be thin. 

So what is the answer?

            The answer to the question is NO, I am not going to make you fat.  I have no interest in making you fat.  Truthfully, I prefer to leave your weight up to your doctor and your dietician.  I don’t want to fight that battle with you.  Except for the fact that I want you to be healthy enough to do all the things you want to do and more, your weight is really none of my business.  I am far more concerned about your emotional well-being than I am your weight.  I know that sounds hard to believe because everyone makes such a big deal about your weight, right?  After all, if people weren’t on your back about your weight, you probably wouldn’t even be thinking about going to counseling, right?

            I don’t fully believe that.  If being thin felt that great, if it fixed all your problems, then you would not be reading this.  My guess is your world has become so small that all you think about is food and weight, and that it is hard to imagine a life without those thoughts consuming you.  I bet there are times when you cry because you want to eat dinner with friends but you have to turn them down because you just can’t do it.  I bet there are times when your joints ache when you get out of bed and you feel like you are 90 years old.  I bet you feel like shit much of the time, but you have convinced yourself that’s normal, that everyone feels that way.

            Living with an eating disorder is miserable.  And to be quite honest, recovery feels miserable in the beginning as well.  Anyone who tells you otherwise has not been there.  Even though I have no interest in making you fat, and your weight is not my business, helping you deal with the discomfort of getting healthy is my business.  It will take time before getting healthy feels good.  But you CAN handle it.  It will be uncomfortable, and sometimes painful.  But you CAN handle it.  Living with an eating disorder is difficult – you handled that.  I know you have it in you to handle recovery.  You might as well give it a shot – you can always return to your eating disorder if this recovery thing doesn’t work out. 

If I’m not gwoman with shirt flying in wind in fieldoing to make you fat, then what does happen in counseling?

            Great question.  Every therapist is different, so I can’t speak for how other people do it.  And every client is different so I can’t even say for sure what counseling will be like for you.  What I do know is that at some point the eating disorder behaviors served a purpose; they made sense.  I am in no rush to get rid of those behaviors until we figure out how they served you.  I really want to understand what your life is like, what you feel, what you think, what is it like to be in your shoes.  From there, we can decide together the best plan. I won’t take control away from you.  You get to be part of the process.  In fact, I expect that you are the expert in your life, not me, so it would be silly for me to tell you how to live your life.

            There will be times when you hate me – that seems to be part of the process for most everyone I have worked with.  That’s ok.  I hated my therapist too.  And I kept going back.  And I got better.  And, guess what, she didn’t make me fat!  I understand the terror you feel when you talk about food, or try and do something different with your food.  Sometimes it actually feels like you will die if you have to eat one more bite.  I don’t mean that symbolically, I mean it literally feels like you will die.  I know how intense those feelings are and I will walk through all of them with you.  I am not afraid to go anywhere we need to go.  I won’t give up on you no matter what.

            I think the best way to describe what therapy will be like is to say that it will be completely unique to you.  It will be a creative, collaborative process between the two of us.  Even if something has worked for hundreds of other people, if it doesn’t work for you we will throw it out and try something else.  It will be hard, it will be uncomfortable, it will be inspiring, it will be funny and tearful, and it will be worth it.  It’s ok to be afraid and come anyway.  As much as you don’t want to hear it, this can kill you, and I refuse to let that happen if I can help it. 

           

SLEEP – IS IT REALLY THAT IMPORTANT?

light night skyIs it really that important to get 7-8 hours of sleep? I mean, is that just something people say because it sounds like a nice thing to do, or does it really make a difference? Let’s start with the basics. You feel better after a good night’s rest, right? You are probably moodier if you don’t sleep well, and you are less able to focus. I know that I am certainly more grumpy and less patient if I have not slept well the previous night. I might be able to hide my grumpiness, but it takes a lot of energy to do that which means I have less energy for other things.
Other than just making us less moody and more alert, let’s look at some specific things sleep does for us.
1. Sleep helps your brain prepare to learn new things, and then it helps your brain store what you have learned so that you can recall and use it. For example, if you are in school, or learning a new job, when you sleep your brain is getting primed to learn new information the next day. Then, after you learn the new information, when you sleep that night your brain is busily processing and filing the information so that you can remember it when you need to. That could be helpful for passing a test, or getting the promotion you want, don’t you think?
2. Sleep is good for your heart. When we sleep, our body takes that time to heal our heart and blood vessels. Not getting enough sleep has been linked to high blood pressure, stroke and heart disease. Since we are dependent on our heart to live an active and healthy life, it might be a good idea to do everything we can to keep it healthy, which includes getting enough sleep.
3. There are several ways in which sleep helps us with appetite and weight management. Sleep deprivation has been linked to obesity, so if you are concerned about being overweight, getting enough sleep needs to be part of your daily practice. Sleep also helps balance our hormones that regulate our appetite. Lack of sleep might make you feel hungrier during the day because your hormones have not had a chance to regulate themselves.
4. If you want to make better decisions, get enough sleep. Making good decisions is a critical part of achieving your goals. Who do you think gets into the better college, the person who makes bad decisions or the person who makes good decisions? Who do you think does a better job at saving money for a car or home of their dreams – the person who makes bad decisions or the person who makes good decisions? And who do you think has a better relationship with their partner – yep, I’m guessing the person who is able to make better decision. Research shows that sleep helps you process and organize information, enabling you to make better decision.
I kind of like the idea of being able to think better, being at a healthy weight, not having a heart attack and being able to learn new stuff. Those things all sound appealing in my quest to live a healthy and happy life, what about you? Do you like the idea of spending your days with plenty of energy, being able to think clearly, and achieving the goals that are important to you? If your answer is yes, it sounds like getting enough sleep might be more than just a nice idea, it is critical to getting what you want. If you are having trouble sleeping, stay tuned for part 2 for some helpful tips.

Gwen Bartran, MA, LPCC
gwenbartran.com

CREATING A RETIREMENT ACCOUNT FOR YOUR BRAIN

retirement glasses on wood table            We hear all the time that we need to plan for retirement – we need to have a solid financial plan so that we can enjoy our retirement years rather than spending them in poverty.  But how much do we hear about investing in our cognitive future so that we can spend our retirement years enjoying our loved ones and our memories rather than being fed and bathed by strangers and not recognizing our friends and family?  Personally, I have heard very little about the latter topic, which seems to me to be just as important. 

            Did you know that the damage from Alzheimer’s Disease can begin anywhere from 20-50 year before symptoms appear?  The beginning stages of the disease are very slow moving, but the last stages are much quicker.  So, the time to do something is before you even see signs of a problem.  Just like a financial savings account, the time to make deposits into your mental savings account is before you need it.  Here are some ways you can build your cognitive savings account:

1.      Nutrition:  Unfortunately the typical American diet is not great for our brains.  Full of chemicals, sugar and unhealthy fats these foods don’t do anything help prevent getting Alzheimer’s Disease.  One of the best things you can do to invest in your future self is to eat lots of fruits and vegetables and fewer processed foods.  Fruits and vegetables contain antioxidants which help protect your brain from brain cell deterioration.  When you eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetable you get lots of nutrients that are often lost when foods are processed.  Studies show that people who eat at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables have a 40% slower decline in cognitive abilities than those who eat 4 servings or less.

2.     Exercise:  Keeping fit can help lower many of the risk factors associated with cognitive decline, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity and high cholesterol.  Exercise also improves blood flow to the brain, and it can help keep blood vessels soft and pliable, reducing the risk of stroke.  Recommendations are that you get approximately 20-30 minutes of exercise/day, including both aerobic and resistance activities.

3.     Social:  Study after study shows that isolation is not a good thing for humans – feelings of isolation and loneliness actually increase your risk for dementia later in life.  Friends can help reduce stress, reduce depression, and support positive lifestyle changes.  Those of you who tend to be introverts don’t worry – I am not saying you must become social butterflies.  For some of us, it only takes 1 or 2 friends to fend off feelings of loneliness.  The idea is to know how much social interaction you need, and make sure you get that.  You can even incorporate social with other things – work out with a friend, have a dinner party, join a cooking club.  Look for ways to include connection in your life, and make sure it is real life, face to face connection rather than just social media.

4.     Sleep:  Sleep is more than just downtime; it is the time our brain uses to clean house.  Our brains need this time to get rid of toxic substances, thoughts and memories accumulated during the day.  How much sleep do we need?  Apparently, there is no definitive answer.  It was thought that 7-9 hours is optimal, but studies seem to say that individual needs vary.  Rather than going by the number of hours, go by how you feel.  Do you feel energized throughout the day or do you get sluggish and need large amounts of caffeine to get you through the day?  If you have enough energy, you are probably getting enough sleep.  If you feel like you are dragging your feet, you might need a little more sleep.  Being sleep deprived is not a badge of honor; it is making withdrawals from our cognitive savings account.

Losing our memories, losing our independence, these don’t have to be the inevitable results of growing older.  We have some choice.  There may be factors beyond our control, but there are a lot of areas that we can influence.  Don’t try to overhaul your entire life.  Pick one or two things to start with.  Practice them until they become habit.  When those one or two things become easier, then pick something else to add in.  Before you know it, you will be well on your way to having a great mental savings account!

 

Gwen Bartran, MA, LPC, Certified Brain Health Coach

gbartran@msn.com

gwenbartran.com

970-988-6978

           

Divorce and Grief

woman standing in field golden hourDIVORCE AND GRIEF

 

            There is a unique kind of grief that comes with divorce.  There is no funeral, no death of a person, no obituary or burial, and yet there is loss just as deep as if someone has died.  In another sense, there has been a death – the death of a dream, of a way of life, of a family unit, of lots of things that can’t even be named.  Perhaps we should have a funeral after the end of a marriage.  Perhaps that could help the grieving process along in some way.  Ceremonies often give closure and respect to the magnitude of change. 

            I think that Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ stages of grief are relevant after a divorce just as much as after other types of losses.  If you are going through a divorce, the stages below will probably sound familiar.

1.      Denial:  While denial can be useful in helping us get to work, fix dinner for the kids, and do the daily things we need to do, it can also be overused.  We pretend that everything is fine even when absolutely nothing is even remotely ok!  We pretend that we can handle all that is going on even when we go to be with a migraine night after night.  Sometimes we must deny how deep the pain is or we would not be able to function.  Denial is a normal stage, we all go through it.  Know that it helps us function when we need to, but eventually we will have to look at reality.  Be there when you need to, but don’t prolong the visit with denial.  Denial can easily become guest who overstays their welcome and begins to stink like the proverbial fish. 

2.     Anger:  This can show up in all kinds of way.  We might be angry at our ex, angry at ourselves, angry at our parents, our job, our religion, even at the rabbit that is eating nibbling peacefully on the lawn!  Anger helps us protect ourselves – it often empowers us to keep ourselves safe.  Anger is not the enemy if we don’t let it control our behavior in destructive ways.  Most of us are not comfortable with anger so we try to ignore it or go back to number 1 and deny it.  It hurts, it is powerful and it is untamed.  Let it be there.  It won’t hurt you.  It is a necessary part of the process.

3.     Bargaining:  This is usually a desperate attempt to make things go back to the way they were, or at least how we wanted them to be.  We might decide the marriage wasn’t so bad after all, or there was that one thing that we could try that would make all the difference.  You know – that one special blend of herbal tea that can fix everything.  For me it was more bargaining with myself than anyone else – “you can suck it up, can’t you?  Really, things were not all that bad.”  Or “wow, divorce is so much harder than whatever you thought was tough in the marriage.  Just try one more time to make it work.  Look at all the fun you had on that one vacation 7 years ago!”  Sometimes we bargain with our ex, or sometimes with God or anyone else in the universe who will listen!  We are willing to do whatever it might take to make this divorce go away.

4.     Depression:  This is the stage when you eat a lot of ice cream, stay in bed all day and watch brainless TV.  Who knew they could make a reality show out of people who like to dress up as mermaids and stay in their bathtub all day?!  Stock up on tissue because you will need it for this stage.  Cry every tear that wants to be cried.  Feel the depression in the depth of your bones.  The best way to not get stuck here is to embrace it fully and let it be as big as it needs to be.  Then, allow it to move through you and into the atmosphere or down to the center of the earth.

5.     Acceptance:  This is when you can finally feel the air fill your lungs and it doesn’t hurt anymore.  This is when you can get out of bed in the morning and say, “I think I can do today.”  This is when you feel like there is a life out there beyond the dark muck of divorce.  You can see a future, you can even see the present without the theme of divorce running your day.  You know there will be challenges, but you no longer feel unable to handle them.  You’ve got this. 

What you really need to know is that this is not a linear process.  It’s more circular, or spiral, or something along those lines.  You might start with anger, then get depressed, then be in acceptance for a while, and then go into denial.  You will visit each stage more than once.  Hopefully after the first couple of rounds with the stages each will get less intense, and will be less difficult to move through.  There is no right way to do this.  Everyone’s process is different and yours will be unique to you.  Settle in and let the process unfold as it needs to.  The less you resist, the less it will persist.  Be gentle and patient with yourself.  You will make it, and you will find the other side.

 

Gwen Bartran, MA, LPC

970-988-6978

CO-PARENTING TIPS FOR DIVORCED PARENTS

woman standing in field golden hour            Even under the best of circumstances coordinating all the things that go along with parenting can be tough – doctor’s appointments, sports practices, school activities, play dates etc.  Who is going to pick Tommy up after school and take him to soccer and who is going to take care of dinner and who is going to make it to the parent teacher conference is a never-ending situation to figure out.  Now add in the fact that the two parents making these decisions are no longer married because their relationship fell apart, and an already tough situation just became almost impossible at times. 

            Despite the challenges, finding a way to share parenting with your child’s other parent is important for the emotional well-being of your child.  Research shows that children from divorced families do much better emotionally when the parents can have a good co-parenting relationship.  Sounds reasonable, right?  “But you don’t know my ex” – said most divorced parents at some point!  “We couldn’t get along when we were married, what makes you think we can get along now?”  Or, “If we could have communicated well enough to parent together when we were married we wouldn’t be divorced!”  Sound familiar?  Here are some ways to help.  I did not say here are some ways to make it wonderful, or easy, or blissful, just some ways to help. 

1.      Refer to your ex as your child’s dad or your child’s mom rather than your ex.  This sounds rather minor, but it can really cause a shift in your thinking and your attitude.  Your “ex” brings with it all the thoughts and feelings of a marriage gone bad.  It has a major negative connotation, and only servers to perpetuate resentment, grief and all the other negative feelings that come from a divorce.  So, use that word less, if at all.  Instead, replace it with Tommy’s dad, or Tommy’s mom.  Usually this phrase is not so loaded with negative feelings as “ex”. 

2.     Figure out the best way to communicate with your child’s other parent.  It might take a while before you feel like you can speak face to face without it ending badly.  That’s ok.  It might send you over the edge just hearing that person’s voice on the phone.  That’s ok too.  Give yourself the time you need, and figure out another way.  Maybe email is best for a while, or texting.  Whatever you do, just don’t have your child be the messenger.  Use a friend if you need to, just not your child.  Be honest with yourself about what you can handle, knowing that eventually it will change.  If you push yourself to communicate in a way that you are not ready for you will just create more animosity and your child will suffer for it.  It’s ok to not want to hear his/her voice for a while.  Find what works for you.

3.     As hard as it may be at times, ask the other parent for feedback when you offer a solution or present an idea.  If you think your child would benefit from some tutoring at school, or that he/she would like a summer camp, present the idea and then ask the other parent what they think.  That’s just common respect.  No one wants to be told that something is going to happen with their child without being asked for their opinion.  Would you want the other parent to TELL you your child is going to summer camp for underwater basket weaving without being asked what you think?  I doubt it.  So, give the other parent the same courtesy.  It will go a long way towards being able to work through other situations.

4.     Make transitions easier.  Make sure your child has the essentials at each house so they don’t feel like they are moving in and out every few days.  This is their home, they are not staying at a hotel.  Sure, they may have comfort things or favorite clothes that they want to take back and forth, but that should be because they choose it, not because they have to.  You would not want to have to pack up every few days, would you?  Making it as easy on your kids as possible will make the transitions easier, which will cause less friction between you and the other parent.

5.     Own your own stuff.  Pay attention to your own feelings around transition times so that you can take care of yourself.  No matter how much you want your kids back, it can be hard to go from a quiet house to a noisy one.  Prepare yourself mentally for the kids to come back, have a cup of tea right before they come back, have some kind of ritual that signals to your nervous system that things are going to change so that you don’t get stressed and cranky.  If you are still really angry about the divorce it can be tempting to want to hear all the bad things that happened while the kids were with the other parent.  Acknowledge that to yourself, and then just smile.  No need to judge yourself, it’s normal to want to compare yourself with the other parent.  If you acknowledge this, you are less likely to grill the kids for dirt on the other parent.  If you don’t acknowledge it there is a bigger chance you will have conversations with your kids aimed at tearing down the other parent, which may feel good to you in the short term but will be damaging to the whole family in the long run. 

For more help navigating divorce and co-parenting call me to set up a time to talk.  Getting support can be one of the most useful things you can do. 

Gwen Bartran, MA, LPC
970-988-6978,
gbartran@msn.com

 

MINDFULNESS AND THE NOISE IN YOUR HEAD

 

            It can be so hard to practice mindfulness when the noise in our heads never stops.  Here are some strategies that can be helpful when you would like to find some relief from the well-meaning and sometimes not so well-meaning voices in your head.

1.     Turn the radio down.  Imagine that the sound in your head is like the radio in your car.  There are several different stations to choose from if you want to listen – talk radio, oldies, country, maybe some mellow music, a dance station, all kinds of choices.  But if you decide none of those stations really fit with what you are wanting at the moment, turn the radio down.  Imagine that there is a knob in your head that you can turn down the volume.  Unfortunately, there is not an “off” switch, but you can turn it down so that the voices are no more than background noise.

2.     Give the voice a new character.  It’s hard to take someone seriously when they sound like Donald Duck, or Pee Wee Herman.  Instead of hearing the voice as a competent adult or someone that you would take seriously, turn it into something you wouldn’t take seriously.  It’s your voice after all, you can do anything you want to it, so why not have some fun?

3.     Be polite, and say thank you.  Tell the voice in your head thank you for sharing, and now you are going to talk to another guest at the party.  How many times have you tried to shut out the voices or ignore them?  It never works, right?  So, you might as well stop trying to ignore it.  Be polite, acknowledge this faceless voice as you would any visitor.  Tell it thank you for stopping by, and then move on to what you would like to focus on.  Just like a persistent child, the voices in your head will keep pestering you until you acknowledge them.  That’s it, you don’t have to agree or engage in a lengthy conversation, just acknowledge. 

4.     Put the voice to music.  If the voice is going to be there, you might as well have some fun with it.  Give it a dance tune and make it a party.  Make it a song in another language from another country.  Give it a deep voice, or give it an opera voice.  Give the song a name.  Maybe it’s the “You are No Good” song in an Italian opera voice.  Or maybe it’s the rap classic “I can’t Take It Anymore”. 

5.     Practice finding the gap.  If you really pay attention, you will find a gap in the stream of thoughts going through your head.  It might only be half a second, but look for it; listen for the break.  When you hear the gap, inhale deeply, and then exhale deeply.  And then listen for the next gap.  It will come, be patient.  Sometimes the gap will last a few seconds, and you can inhale and exhale a few times.  It really doesn’t matter how long the gap lasts, the point is to pay attention and find it. 

Our brains are amazing and complicated.  They process millions of bits of information all at the same time so that we can walk and talk and digest food and breathe and figure out where we need to be next.  It’s a great thing that our brains never stop working, but it can be exhausting when the chatter gets too loud or is negative and unhelpful.  The trick is to work with our minds rather than resisting so much.  Accept that the chatter will be there to some degree most, if not all the time.  So, play with it.  Find some strategies to mold the chatter rather than attempting the impossible feat of silencing it.  I realize there may be some who have found a way to silence the chatter, but that is a blog you will have to find elsewhere because I don’t yet know how to do that.