Careers: Making a Life vs. Making a Living

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Once upon a time, I worked as an employment counselor. As I work to restructure my life, I thought about employment counseling, the tools I used, and the people with whom I worked. Most of the people with whom I worked had fallen into unemployment. The reasons for their fall varied.

Many found themselves ambushed with a lay-off notice/being downsized (many had similar experiences to the lead character in the movie “Larry Crowne”). Others submitted retirement paperwork and discovered they’d lost their retirement savings or pension in a corporate sale (I’m reminded of the movie “Love Punch”). A few lost everything (in an accident, due to illness, or other catastrophe) (I’m thinking of “Henry Poole was Here”). A few job-hopped so much that as they aged and their charms became more dated, they were suddenly unable to recover. A few had opted for the fulltime mommy-track and when their spouse absconded with the family fortune, they came seeking the skills they needed to secure a job with a living wage…or two jobs at minimum wage.

One of the things I tried to do was encourage people to take the time to find a job that felt fulfilling to them, that gave them the sense they were doing something important and helping others. The counselors at the career center where I worked all encouraged clients to get on a career track that gave them a sense of making their life better, not just making a buck. We also advocated for living-wage jobs (jobs that paid enough to cover basic needs).

Granted, there are career surveys that have a lot of support from employment counselors. They line up the traits, character, and preferences of job-searchers with people in certain career fields. The more they match, the better it is assumed for the job seeker. However, when you consider that most workers (approximately 70% in surveys) state they are unhappy with their jobs, that route may not provide the best results.

One of the most in-depth (and time-consuming) options was presented in grad school as System for Identifying Motivated Abilities (SIMA). The newer version is described in the book The Power of Uniqueness: Why You Can’t Be Anything You Want To Be by Arthur F Miller, Jr., with William Hendricks. The technique is time-consuming, but worth the effort and I recommend it highly to anyone who is interested enough to make the time investment. In a nutshell that I’m certain sells the technique short, it’s about identifying your areas of giftedness and things that motivate you to help you identify a career that inspires your best.

A short-cut option we often used in our time-limited culture of career counseling was to ask people to consider this: most people, between ages 9 and 12, come up with an idea of a career they feel strongly attracted to. This is after the notion of being a pop star, astronaut, or perhaps a race-car driver passes. It could be inspired by a person in that profession, a random idea, a movie or book.

When I was in that age-zone, I had an amazing teacher. She was not the popular teacher. (I had the popular teacher the following year. He was, at best, condescending and emotionally abusive to the non-athletes in the class, but wildly popular among the athletic children.) Mrs. Turner was fair. Never giddy. She challenged all students to do better, behave better, live better. And one homework assignment was to imagine our grown-up lives and to describe how we made a living, including providing an example of a work product. For example, an aspiring airline pilot would describe the job in a few paragraphs and might create a flight log.

I took it seriously. I know that because many years ago, as I helped my mom sift through old papers, I found that assignment. Condensed, and to the best of my memory, here’s what it said.

Because I loved children and didn’t feel they got the respect they deserve, I wanted to be a teacher during the day.

Evenings I would work as a writer for a television show because I felt stories had the power to change lives.

Summers I would travel, explore new places, gather stories, and document my explorations to encourage others to get out to take the roads they hadn’t and to see the world. I thought it the best way to get to really learn about, and possibly understand, other cultures.

Although it was a bit ambitious – finding time to sleep and grade papers would certainly have presented challenges – the things I wanted to do as a child reflected core values that haven’t changed much.

I still believe in the importance of supporting and encouraging children. In my life and work I’ve done that by working with foster family placements; helping homeless families secure safe permanent housing; supporting youth and low-income parents as a therapist, career counselor, or educator; volunteering for Special Olympics and as a Girl Scout troop leader; and other ways.

Exercising my creativity through writing, story-telling, and other activities continues to uplift and fascinate me. As a fund-raising professional, I told stories to encourage generosity and wrote proposals for funding from many different sources. I’ve written newspaper columns, technical manuals, newsletters for multiple nonprofit agencies or programs, and I write and read nearly every day.

My dad loved to find and explore roads he’d never traveled, and travel remains a joy for me. Though most of my journeys have been on the continental US or Hawaii, my road trips have taken me to every state in the continental US except Maine, I’ve seen some amazing places. I also had the privilege of working and living in Hawaii for 10 years.

So, from someone who worked in the field of employment/career counseling, I think we all could do better when it comes to finding careers and making time for our passions. One way to do that would be to look at what was important to you as a child, the core values those desires arose from, and think about ways to incorporate those values in your work, volunteer opportunities, or daily life.

It’s another part of healthy self-care.

A Surprise Visitor

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Those days. It was one of Those Days. One of those rare stretches of time without a lot scheduled and when the grandsons had other activities that didn’t require my presence.

I remember the early morning because the heat wasn’t working in the locker room after my early-morning water aerobics class, and the fan blew in the 40-degree dawn air from outside. By the time I showered and shivered into clothes, I could only think of hot coffee, so headed for the nearby Starbucks.

Morning coffee: an indulgent luxury for no-rush-days when the aroma and the first sip receive their deserved savoring. The steaming almond-milk latte did not disappoint me, so I took my time. Checked a few errands off my To-Do list.

When I returned to a 60-degree house, I grabbed my Kindle full of books and carried my laptop to the sun-blasted patio where 65 degrees of direct sunshine warmed me.

Ah, the difference between a protected spot in the sunshine and a chilly desk chair inside…

Before I could open the laptop, I thought about my grandmother. She would have loved that brilliant day.

Grandma Isabel lived with us from the time I was 5 years old, and every morning she filled a mug with coffee, lightened with 2 spoons of sugar and a large dollop of evaporated milk, and carried it to the front porch. She sat there in an Adirondack chair for an hour or two. No gaming device or cell phone on her lap. No book or newspaper.

When my cheeky 6-year-old-self asked her how she could tolerate all that boring time doing Nothing, she informed me she wasn’t doing Nothing and was never bored. She described Noticing. She suggested observing the birds stretching their wings and singing to one another, the cars zipping or crawling by on the busier streets a half-block away, the plants dancing under the weight of insects skittering about, folks pulling into the nearby church parking lot, dew on the grass, children heading to school or parents dressed for work, the wind pushing treetops back and forth. Everywhere she looked, she saw Life, and all of it seemed Special.

Ten years later, after she passed away, I would sometimes sit in one of those chairs on the porch, just noticing things. It surprised me to learn how much of what happened around me I had missed.

But that day, a few short weeks ago, I sat outside, ignoring my electronics while I watched a flock of birds as they made figure-eights toward the southwest. A raven sitting on a nearby power line made shocked noises. Aircraft passed over at high altitudes, leaving their white trails in their wake.

Suddenly, a small group of smaller birds scattered amid a lot of squawking.

From the north, a hawk swooped in, landing about 20 feet away from me on the back fence. I’d read stories about coyotes and other small creatures, displaced by human expansion into what was once their territory, wandering into neighborhoods on this rocky side of Ventura County, but the hawk was an unanticipated visitor.

Standing with it’s brilliant rust-colored chest facing toward me, I never even thought to grab my phone to try to get a photo. Somehow, I knew my time with this large hunter would pass quickly. In my limited reality, the word Awesome came to mind to describe the event. The hawk, judging by the foliage behind him, stood about 18” high. He (I’m assuming, because of the striking color of his feathers), paused for a few seconds, hopped and spread its wings, dipping over the fence and out of sight.

It took a while for me to trudge through websites to find the Red Shouldered Hawk. I almost forgot the incident.

A few days ago, though, I heard a screeching cry from above and watched smaller birds scatter. I stopped everything to look around, hoping to see the visitor again. Sadly, that didn’t happen. Still, I appreciated the pause and the reminder to savor each moment.

Feeling Deeply

Growing up includes some challenges for everyone, I expect. For me, life often felt huge and confusing, living in a farming community amid a fairly large and loud Portuguese and Hispanic family with generations-deep blood ties to the Azores and a sort of grandiose pride in clinging to European roots while also grasping for The American Way. The closest family members belligerently professed  connections to conservative politics in public in order to “blend in,” while behind closed doors they retained a rebellious devotion to more progressive candidates and ideas. (Under questioning, they encouraged 8-year-old-me to never vote by political party affiliation but by candidates’ character.) Both my parents lost their fathers while they were still young and lived unstable lives. They came from a generation that survived the Great Depression and a World War. They didn’t talk about feelings.

Drama flourished within the community of my youth, though. Booze launched family gatherings, with cousins spilling out back doors and aunties organizing food while uncles bickered. Then arguments grew louder until somebody walked off, red-faced, or took a swing at someone else. Kids and women would scatter until things calmed down. Over food, jokes that I rarely understood drew guffaws and eased tensions until a few folks dusted off their favorite funny stories to share and share again. And then, whew. Sometimes we headed home. Other times, the wine from dinner urged someone to play fado, sad music featuring, most often, a heart-broken woman singing in Portuguese, or non-English versions of songs like Ave Maria. My mom, who spoke only English, and any nearby children, all of us forbidden to speak Portuguese or Spanish, would brace ourselves when those tunes started. We waited, amazed, until the big bossy manly men wept, blew their noses on cloth handkerchiefs, and ran out of energy. The evening wrapped up with folks patting shoulders and heading quietly home. That’s the closest we ever came to disclosure of feelings.

No surprise, I grew up with a limited ability to identify emotional states. I knew about four that I would have named as Fearful, Angry, Happy, and Sad. I read a lot and tried to figure out how to control emotional states and where they originated, but eventually I set the whole thing aside because of conflicting information. A few decades later I found a chart of emotions that helped me to understand some nuance so I could say, “That talk left me feeling content, hopeful, inspired” instead of “That was good.” Still, it felt as if feelings primarily mattered to me.   

Several books inspired me, starting with HeartMath (the book helped me consider the importance of the heart and offered techniques to feel calm), the books Blue Zones and Thrive (helped me view emotional and physical health through a cultural and holistic lens), and the book I want to talk about, Permission to Feel: The Power of Emotional Intelligence to Achieve Well-being and Success by Marc Brackett, Ph.D.

This book came to my attention during a podcast, and I picked it up because I want to improve my own skills and hoped to help my grandsons identify emotions beyond the common 4 I knew as a child. Along with engaging and well-written text, the book contains opportunities to pause and consider how we’re feeling or to practice a technique. There are 3 sections to the book. The first is more background information. The second section covers the method in more detail. The third is about applying the method. Because I’m looking for tools to help in the real-world I inhabit, the opportunity to engage with the material inspired me and initial trials have boosted my appreciation for the material.

Though the book warns against judging others’ feelings, I’ve used some observed encounters to build my own vocabulary. Because I completely acknowledge we’re often not as skilled as we think, I also take opportunities when it’s safe to do so to reality-check my observations with friends/family. I wondered how often my grandkids feel irritated, frustrated, and disappointed but hold in their feelings until they’re ready to burst.

Last spring, when schools were wrapping up for the year and before I’d read Permission to Feel, the grandchildren and I started a related discussion. We began learning about the brain, focusing primarily on the pre-frontal cortex (the Wise One), the hippocampus (the Library), and the amygdala (the Guard Dog) based on the Hawn Foundation MindUp Curriculum: Brain-Focused Strategies for Learning—and Living[i].  I hoped by teaching the grandsons brain-basics, they would better understand feelings, recognize anger and fear are designed to protect them, and develop ways to regulate emotions. We had fun discussing parts of the brain and how our Guard Dogs go berserk.

We only finished two lessons, though, before schools closed and our household schedules were upended by other changes. We haven’t yet gotten back in the groove and in online school the children checked in with their teachers on feelings with a simple thumbs-up, thumbs-down, or thumbs-sideways.

In contrast, Permission to Feel provides a 100-word feelings chart (for adults) in full color with 4 sectors divided from high-energy to low energy and low pleasantness to high pleasantness. For example, “enraged”=high energy/low pleasantness, “ecstatic”=high energy/high pleasantness, “serene”=low energy/high pleasantness, and “despairing”=low pleasantness/low energy. The method includes steps we can take to guide ourselves away from being a feelings-judge. These steps are abbreviated as RULER (Recognize feelings, Understand the causes and consequences, Label emotions correctly, Express emotion(s), Regulate emotions).

Two of the many very helpful ideas for me include suggestions about how to question children regarding feelings and a technique called “Meta-Moment.” Please note that this book overflows with useful information. This is a glimpse and, hopefully, encouragement for you to read this yourself.[ii]

Questioning children. Asking children simple questions after they’ve had an outburst or seem upset sounded like straightforward advice. The author provided some sample questions that I remember as WHY. What happened? How did you feel (when that happened)? Why do you think you felt that way?  In brief practical experience, I’ve discovered waiting too long to bring up the feelings may give the memory time to clear from a child’s memory. Ask too soon and it can restart a tantrum.

One day I just didn’t know what else to say when my youngest grandson seemed angry and revving up.  He raised his fist as if he planned to hit me. Normally I talk about hitting as an inappropriate response that can cause more problems than it solves, then suggest deep breathing. He always refuses the breathing suggestion. Instead, this time I said, “I feel soooo frustrated right now. I love you so much and want to figure out what’s happening. I feel disappointed in myself because what I usually do doesn’t help you and I feel sad because I don’t know what to do to help you feel calm.”

By movie-moment standards, his response registered as far from miraculous. He looked at me, lowered his fist, and emphatically responded, “I feel frustrated, too!” And I said, “Isn’t it awful to feel snarled up like this? I need to take a break.” He nodded and walked away to take a break of his own. Later I tried to open the discussion about feelings, but he seemed to have moved on to more interesting topics.

The following morning, though, he came to me and said, “When I was little, (so-and-so) pushed me and bit me and hit me and it hurt.” I told him I felt really mad that someone would do that to him, told him it was mean and not fair to him. “You deserve to feel safe and be treated with love.” He simply said, “Thank you” and walked away. No happily-ever-after, but a good start.

Though he seems to have some trauma-based anger to deal with, we’re working on small things. The next time I noticed his frustration escalating (while completing homework), instead of asking him to pay attention, I mentioned he seemed really stressed and asked how I could help. He wasn’t quite sure, but I made a few suggestions and he accepted one. Quickly, we returned to task.

There have been some failed attempts. When we’re tired or haven’t eaten, things can go off the rails fairly quickly. I’m learning to ask about his feelings sooner. To be frank, re-reading the book sounds helpful, too, since it’s packed with so much information that I barely offer a glimpse. 

Meta-Moment. This suggestion, with multiple emotion-regulation techniques, spoke to me. Normally I can react semi-intelligently, but things have been stressful lately. The pool (my “happy place”) I depended on for exercise is closed and I’ve failed rather spectacularly at substitute endeavors, my schedule has been chaotic, the political and social climates have been erratic and sometimes scary, and we’re currently socially distant from friends and family. I’m destined to practice this technique a lot.

In most basic terms, it’s about taking a brief time-out when life feels overwhelming to the point we’re ready to act out. Instead, the book suggests: Take a deep breath (or a few). Clock it (sense the shift). Stop it (pause). See your Best Self in the situation. Consider options and take the road that helps close the gap between your “triggered” self and your Best Self.

Again, this book has a lot to offer if you’re someone who wants to dig in and try some techniques to better recognize and regulate your emotions. Whether you’re curious or you really want to learn ways to integrate emotional openness into your life, consider inviting Permission to Feel into your world. 

Next week, book 3 of my recent (for me) top 3 “self-help” books.

Until then, may you be happy, healthy, safe, and strong.


Last words: Please remember that neither my opinions, my experiences, nor resources I mention are meant as cures or treatment. If you’re in a moment in your life when most efforts feel huge, consider finding a mental health professional to support you.[iii]  If you’re considering ending your life or if you are in crisis, please reach out to emergency services (9-1-1) or a crisis hotline.[iv] You deserve support and to know someone has your back.


[i] Visit www.mindup.org for more info and https://mindup.org/mindup-for-teachers/ for additional materials, including links to free training videos. The curriculum can be purchased on Amazon or at other book retailers.

[ii] If you’re on a budget, check with your local library or see if you can borrow from a friend! My current income is limited and my bookshelf is full, so I understand!

[iii] Most areas in the U.S. offer a “2-1-1” service that can provide information about local resources. In addition, one website (there are many) with info about finding an affordable therapist is Open Counseling at www.opencounseling.com .

[iv] National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255; to reach the Crisis Text Line in the US and Canada text “HOME” to 741741; in the UK text 85258; in Ireland text 2050808.

Chasing Happiness

Before I dive in, I have a favor to ask. Please remember that my opinions, my experiences, and resources I mention are not meant as cures or treatment. If you’re in a moment of your life when most efforts feel huge, consider finding a mental health professional to support you.[i]  If you’re considering ending your life or if you are in crisis, please reach out to emergency services (9-1-1) or a crisis hotline.[ii] You deserve support and to know someone has your back.

When Autumn arrives, somehow it feels as if the world takes a pause and starts to look back, tentatively, and forward, expectantly, full of hope for the future and often with a touch of regret about the imperfection of the past three-quarters of a year that slipped through our fingers. By New Years Eve, a lot of us will have a list of things we want to accomplish in the next year, though most of us suspect,  based on statistics and our previous history, we won’t attack our “resolutions” as vigorously as we imagined we would.

Thanksgiving decorations have started appearing and it reminds me the holiday (in the U.S.) originated to encourage appreciation for one another and our history. Whether we imagine a history as simple and flawless as the stories taught in our early school years or hold to a more realistic and imperfect version that many have grown to accept,[iii] the present seems the perfect time to re-envision our personal future. Every adjustment we make now, will change what we feel when we look back next Fall or Winter. In a sense, each moment of the present gives us a chance to write a new history, a little at a time. To help along the way, I’m bringing into the conversation three books, one per week, that I’ve found extra-helpful in my self-care journey.

The first book, in plenty of time to request it from the local library or to order from your favorite retailer and dig in soon, is The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want by Sonja Lyubomirsky. This book wandered into my life a few years ago during a course called “The Science of Happiness” that I completed (twice) online through www.edx.org. I picked the book back up for a second read recently, and I’m so glad I did.

The happiness myths I grew up sorting through seem alive and well today, decades later. I thought when I found the right person, got the great job, and made enough money, happiness would find me, or I’d find it. If I didn’t find it, I thought, it was because it resided outside my circumstances or my genetics. The book addresses these myths with science and clear explanations. The author points out about 50% of our happiness seems tied to a “set point” that appears genetic (we used to call this “hard wired”). Another 10% relates to life circumstances. However, a whopping 40% can be changed through intentional activity. 

With all the self-care materials on the planet, this book really delivered a lot of info and some excellent tools. This book offers a good explanation of the theoretical framework and then provides a lot of tools. Not only are there options, they can be based on just picking ones that click for you or you can select recommended options that seem most in sync with your values by completing the included 12-question Oxford Happiness Questionnaire. (To complete the Questionnaire without the book, go to this link.[iv])

The tools, called “happiness activities” in the book, cover 12 areas and offer different options within each area. The general areas are Expressing gratitude, Cultivating optimism, Avoiding comparison and overthinking, Practicing acts of kindness, Nurturing relationships, Developing strategies for coping, Learning to forgive, Increasing “flow” experiences, Savoring joy, Committing to goals, Practicing Spirituality, and Taking care of your body. The Questionnaire helps score and select areas of focus.

Per the Questionnaire, Expressing gratitude scored as one of my highest-interest areas. Since I’m already using a tool related to gratitude and consider it quite important, I’m impressed with the questionnaire. In addition, it helped me narrow down my broad interests to a few options. And though I feel I’ve progressed a lot with gratitude, from the book I learned more about ways to cultivate an optimistic attitude. Honestly, I hadn’t linked the two.

Growing up among adults who often outdid one another to the point if one had a “cold coming on” the other self-diagnosed with pneumonia, I witnessed a lot of negative thinking. My personalized definition of optimism in my teenage years included having the ability to recognize when something awful happened (friendship fell apart), accept any role I had in the disaster (didn’t pick up the cues someone was deceiving me), and acknowledging other circumstances (intentional cover-up by folks who knew what was happening). To my surprise, the book’s definition of “optimistic” states a person who relegates their failures to causes “that were external, transient, and specific” as opposed to causes that are internal and long-lasting. Suddenly, I felt a bit more like Pollyanna.

The tool I felt most drawn to in the section on cultivating optimism suggests writing about “your best possible selves.” This involves pondering deeply important goals and picturing them as achieved, then writing about that. It’s suitable for people of all ages and employs my imagination.

To find a second example, I closed my eyes and opened the book to a random page. Well, perhaps it wasn’t quite so random. The pages I opened to nestled in the section entitled “Managing Stress, Hardship and Trauma” and the tool was “Learning to Forgive.” Yikes! Although this wasn’t one of my top scoring areas, I realized almost everyone I know (including myself) has gotten bogged down at some time after we have been wronged or perceived we have been. The page I opened to has two activities/tools. One is to “Imagine forgiveness.” The other is “Write a letter of forgiveness.”

  • Imagine forgiveness suggests thinking of a particular person “you blame for mistreating or offending you.” You then imagine feeling empathy for the person, take time to consider their perspective, view them as a complete human being, and forgive them. Note that this does not mean excusing or putting up with poor behavior! It’s about letting go of the pain around the incident(s) and weaving through it thoughtfully and completely, imaging what you would say, how you would feel, and, in the end, reducing your stress.
  • Write a letter of forgiveness seeks to help us let go of anger and resentment by writing out our feelings in a letter, but not sending the letter (so it doesn’t matter if this person lives next-door or is no longer alive).  The activity suggest one method is to write about the offense, how it hurt you, how it still hurts you, what you wish they would have done, and ending with a clear statement of forgiveness. Again, this is not meant to be sent/mailed to anyone, but to help you find some peace and, perhaps, understanding.

While these may not resonate with you at all (and that’s absolutely fine), there are many other great examples in the book that might interest you. I consider the book one of those that touched me in a most lovely and uplifting way. To be clear, my preference is for information that wraps itself into or around practical tips – things I can use in my own life. The How of Happiness does that so well that I have to add it to my small personal library (and remove a book to make room for it because I have limited space).

Above all else, the book reminded me that we all have the power to make our lives happier, not by magic, but through chasing happiness in the right way: with an internal focus. To me, the potential life-long happiness upgrade makes it well worth the attempt.

Next week, book 2 of my top 3 “self-care” books. Until then, may you be happy, healthy, safe, and strong.


[i] Most areas in the U.S. offer a “2-1-1” service that can provide information about local resources. In addition, one website (there are many) with info about finding an affordable therapist is Open Counseling at www.opencounseling.com .

[ii] National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255; to reach the Crisis Text Line in the US and Canada text “HOME” to 741741; in the UK text 85258; in Ireland text 2050808.

[i] Most areas in the U.S. offer a “2-1-1” service that can provide information about local resources. In addition, one website (there are many) with info about finding an affordable therapist is Open Counseling at www.opencounseling.com .

[ii] National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255; to reach the Crisis Text Line in the US and Canada text “HOME” to 741741; in the UK text 85258; in Ireland text 2050808.

[iii] For U.S. history, as a start consider Stamped from the Beginning by Ibram Kendi or sources that respect the perspective of indigenous people and those kidnapped humans who were brought to this country enslaved. For me, loving a country means knowing the country’s authentic ups and downs, accepting the past, and working toward a more equitable future.

[iv] If you’re waiting for the book and would like to try the Happiness Questionnaire, here’s an article that includes the questionnaire along with guidance: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/nov/03/take-the-oxford-happiness-questionnaire

Giving Attention

So many things compete for our attention these days. Interacting with family and friends. Opportunities to engage with one another. Commitments to work, whether paid or volunteer. Making sure we meet our financial obligations. Focusing on caring for our bodies, preparing food, taking time for movement. Keeping up with current events and staying informed. Leaning in toward new opportunities. Keeping up with lifelong learning. And we live in a time with many entertainment options. Given all the competition, it’s no wonder so many of us struggle to make time for ourselves.

Several years ago I realized that when I completed two simple activities, my days went much more smoothly. For me, that still stands. I feel far calmer, happier, and far less likely to become irritated with others on days when I take as little as 15 minutes a day for some meditation and give myself some time – from 2 minutes to 2 hours – to write (whether a journal entry or crafting stories, but excluding emails and work-related tasks).

On days when I traveled for work or had other unusual time-sucks to deal with, these soothing timeouts sometimes didn’t happen. What I learned from this, thanks to the obvious difference in my stress level during days when I rushed around feeling frazzled, was to take time to pay attention. In my rush to care for family, do my best at work, and move through the day as efficiently as possible, changing my focus from the task-orientation to something a bit softer did not come easily to me. I learned a little at a time.

During the Greater Good Science Center class, “The Science of Happiness,” the instructors discussed the power of spending time in nature, engaging in simple walks in a park or even a minute or two looking at a tree (or other large green growing plant). Not one to accept such advice without trying it out, on a particularly difficult day at work, I stepped outside, walked to the back of the building where a large tree towered over a neighboring office. I stared at the tree for a minute or two, daring it to make a difference. Frankly, I found it difficult to direct any frustration toward the tree. It stood, firmly rooted, leaves rustling in a light breeze, apparently unconcerned about the humidity or the temperature or cranky clients or a complaining coworker. In spite of doubts, I stood watching the tree, breathing, and felt my tension slip away.

Surprised that a tree, however beautiful, had any impact, I vowed to remember that simple tool. And to try out more things.

Through the “Happiness” class[i] I experimented with a few different ways of paying attention to gratitude. One was to write 3 things daily for which I felt grateful. Another was to write 3 things on 3 different days each week. The final technique I tried involved gratitude writing once a week, stating 5 things for which I felt grateful and adding a sentence or two about what impact each had or why I felt so thankful.

A few years later, I’m still using the third technique. Someone gifted me with a lovely journal and though I resisted writing in it – who desecrates such beautiful works of art?! – I finally gave in and started a gratitude journey. This weekend I realized I’m nearly out of pages. I’m not ashamed to disclose I’ve missed weeks and picked up where I left off. I’ve also stared at the page a few times, after jarring weeks, slowly pulling something up from deep inside myself for which I could honestly claim I felt grateful. Most of the time, though, I strive to give little premeditated thought to the process. Instead, I go with the flow. I write the numbers 1 to 5 on 5 lines, then quickly jot something down, something that generates gratitude in my heart. After that, I give myself more space to write a 2 to 3 lines about each of the 5.

My entries will never win any prizes, and they often mention people – family, friends, coworkers, the stranger who bought me coffee. They also mention the weather, a spectacular sunset or full moon, a story that touched me, a sushi combination that surprised me, the roof over my head, the public library, the midnight blue color of the night sky, my health, access to healthcare, charming places, beautiful noise, services (like food delivery or my CSA), animals and birds, flowers and trees, easy trails. Several years of those weekly notes live in one journal that I rarely examine unless I want to remember.

Both of these simple practices – taking time outdoors to appreciate nature and developing a gratitude habit – can tweak a perspective enough to inspire more positive changes. Start slow. Stay consistent. Try different things.

This week I’m re-reading The How of Happiness by Sonja Lyubomirsky, a book I learned about through The Science of Happiness class. I plan to write more about that book next time. For now, though, I’m wishing you some relaxing time in nature and hoping you find a rewarding gratitude practice that lifts you and keeps you mindful of all you have.

May you be healthy, be happy, be strong, and be safe.


[i] The Science of Happiness class is offered at low- to no-cost online through www.edX.org and additional information about positive psychology can be found at https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/

Imagination

Like many children, my youthful escape hatch typically involved books, stories, and my imagination. When things felt challenging at home – whether my parents argued about family trips (my dad preferred  spontaneous adventures and my mom vehemently opposed voyages lacking meticulous planning) or my siblings squabbled (about everything from who got the last cookie in the jar to the best football team) – at some point I learned to move away from the fray and toward my own peaceful place. Though I didn’t realize it at the time, good self-care requires making choices about when to invest energy in others’ battles and when to let things go.

As a young mother in a precarious marriage with a sour-tempered man, I eventually found my way out. Initially I sought escape, after the kids fell asleep and while my spouse worked nights or drank with friends, by diving into any good story filled with loving characters and a bit of humor. That often got me through, but after my spouse physically assaulted me, I opted to take action and reached out to a domestic violence hotline. Through that connection, I had the opportunity to work with a therapist and, with some help from my imagination, to assess and change my situation.

During the same time, I had written a few articles for a small local newspaper. In order to jot down inspiration, I stashed a small notepad and pen in my pocket and they accompanied me everywhere. In the days before smartphones, these rustic and affordable devices served me well. One day, after my spouse had an outburst, threatening to throw me down the stairs, I waited for him to exhaust himself and walk away. Taking a breath, I pulled out my notebook and wrote out some notes as if I were an observer stating facts without interpretation. When I presented that information to my therapist, we established a behavioral pattern and later those notes showed the behavior intensified.

Though I wish I could state I immediately fled, I did not. In fact, I could barely imagine a different way of living until two great things happened. My spouse accepted an opportunity to travel for his work. His absence for several months brought so much peace into the home that neither the children nor I could ignore the calm. To help make ends meet during my spouse’s absence, I found a better paying job and enrolled in a university class. Nothing earth-shattering, but in the workplace, I met people who called me brilliant, reliable, and competent. In my class, I met people with dreams and goals that inspired me.

This colorful bouquet of new people in my life helped me understand that asking for advice and help did not indicate weakness, but strength. Their support meant a lot, though my biggest lesson was that it’s hard to physically step outside any situation until we can imagine something different. And I had a great imagination. I just needed to exercise it.

Here are some ways I employed that creative spark:

I heard a story about a famous psychologist who worked with couples and asked them, at the start of a marriage-encounter type weekend, to go to their rooms and turn the toilet paper roll around. If it normally fell off the front, switch it to fall off the back, and vice versa. In his case, if folks admitted they didn’t do this, he refunded their money and sent them home. He pointed out it was a very small inconvenience and if they weren’t willing to do that, he questioned their readiness for change. I switched the toilet paper roll. It sounds odd, but I still do that now and then to help me notice something I largely ignore (unless it’s gone 😊) and to realize that feeling upset at a “backwards” toilet tissue roll is actually quite silly. The same holds true for lots of other small inconveniences.

My commute to work felt so boring. One day I took a different route. Literally. All those years ago, I noticed changing my route kept me more mindful. If you use public transportation (good job, you!) change your routine so instead of reading a book, speak with someone or listen to music or anything that is, for you, a change. If you absolutely cannot change those things, imagine the last time you traveled. During your commute to work or the market or church or school, look at the world around you as if you’ve never seen it before. I call it seeing through new eyes, waking up imagination.

When you find yourself in a situation that troubles you and you feel stuck, consider looking beyond your immediate resources for help.

  1. Though working with a professional may sound scary, and finding the right person may not happen immediately, having someone who will listen can make a huge difference. There are affordable resources if you can’t afford a licensed psychologist or therapist, including pastors, school counselors, and students who are finishing advanced degrees in mental health counseling or social work. The website www.opencounseling.com has some articles with good tips and can connect you to someone in the US. In addition, for mental health resources as well as medical and more, visit www.auntbertha.com.
  2. It might be that you just need someone who gets you and isn’t going to lie to you. For me, my great aunts – wise and very outspoken women – were folks I could turn to. If friends or family won’t work, perhaps a friend will loan you their aunt or cousin who has a gift for helping people.
  3. There are also online groups, including anonymous ones, that offer very low cost or free services. The National Alliance for Mental Illness (please don’t let the name scare you off) has an article and a listing of some online groups. To learn more, visit: https://nami.zendesk.com/hc/en-us/articles/360024615074-Are-there-any-online-resources-for-therapy-support-groups-or-mental-health-apps-.

Once upon a time I used my imagination to write down a plan for times when I feel stressed and can’t quite get myself to that logical, rational person I am. My plan is a handy list of what works for me and when it’s time to pull out the plan. If you make a plan, suggest you include:

  1. Your Tells: the signs that you’re super-stressed or otherwise challenged. Over-stressed me gets clumsy, my throat feels tight, I feel antsy and tired at the same time, I don’t concentrate well.
  2. Coping: Ask yourself: Hungry? (Eat). Angry? (Take a Break). Tired? (Nap). Lonely? (Reach out). Undecided? (Breathe). When you need more, go for a distraction.
  3. Distractions: I like funny movies, sudoku puzzles, journaling, walking, listening to happy or soothing tunes, and baking. Try to come up with at least 20 so you have options to choose from.
  4. Connections: Name people who will be there for you to listen and offer support. Include their contact info. These folks can be anyone meaningful to you who has your back.
  5. The Big Guns: These are professionals such as your physician, your therapist or other mental health helper if you have one, your pastor or other religious elder, and a hotline or two.

More in-depth plans are often suggested for people who are considering suicide. If you are thinking about ending your life, please tell your doctor, go to a hospital, call a suicide hotline, or call 911 / the emergency services line in your area. The info I share here I have on stand-by for my own self-care when I don’t know where to start.

Imagination sometimes gets a bad rap, but it can elevate us when we feel ourselves sinking. Tapping into that power can help us re-envision our world and our future. Einstein said, “Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.” May your imagination take you to great places!


[i] “Gaslighting is an insidious form of manipulation and psychological control. Victims of gaslighting are deliberately and systematically fed false information that leads them to question what they know to be true, often about themselves. They may end up doubting their judgment, their perception, and even their sanity. Over time, a gaslighter’s manipulations can grow more complex and potent, making it increasingly difficult for the victim to see the truth.” (From Psychology Today: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/gaslighting)

Falling

Autumn arrived last week, the season that most folks (in the Northern Hemisphere) imagine as bursts of colorful leaves that usher in the cold days of winter. Fall makes a more minimal entrance here in the areas fringing the biggest metro sections of Southern California. In my childhood, autumn in Central California brought some colorful foliage and the tulle fog that caused a lot of mayhem on the highways and streets. Where I live now, the only significant gatherings of autumn leaves erupt briefly, mostly in parks, and late in the year: after Thanksgiving. The trees quickly shrug off the old, rushing to try on their Spring wardrobe.

Though it doesn’t feel like autumn weather, at the local market I couldn’t resist picking up a beautiful pumpkin. When I got it home my grandsons started talking about carving it. More practical, I suggested cooking it. They countered with the idea of painting it. And then carving it.

We clearly see things from a different perspective, yet we all expect some compromises at home. It makes sense, given the combination of different personalities and moods crisscrossing paths in one relatively confined space. Because of the lingering heat of summer and heatwaves that have flitted through the southern half of California, we lost our usual suburban refuge: the back yard. We all get downright cranky some days.

The life issues contributing to that crankiness, I’ve realized, cross age boundaries. Our challenges include some lack of physical activity, lingering awkwardness related to a new way of living during a pandemic, a fluctuating level of anxiety because of external events like wildfires that impact air quality, and lapses into ineffective communication. In simpler terms, we all stress out.

Humor, when used at the right time, can lighten up potential emotional explosions. For example, when the 5-year-old in my life becomes really frustrated about house rules that limit television or playing video games, name-calling is a go-to response. It usually goes something like this:

A miffed kindergartener looks at me and announces, “You’re a doodoo head!”

Me: “What?! I have doodoo on my head?!” I start touching my head. “Where is it?! Help me get if off! Where is it?!”

My kindergartener struggles to glare but we laugh. Then we talk, and we’re back on track.

In grown-up world, the situations are often more nuanced and sometimes humor fails. While there are many tools I use, I’m sharing one I learned about a few years ago but just started practicing in the last few months. I use this when something is bothering me, but I’ve got conflicting emotions and/or I feel muddled by anxiety or fear. When I feel stuck, I’ve become a fan of RAIN.

To start, keep in mind this is just my experience and not a recommendation. You know what works for you, so you do you! I’m not a professional with a certification for teaching this technique (I’m not even sure if there is a certification!), so after you hear about my experience if you want to walk through this yourself, look for the link I’ll share to a video with Tara Brach (a genuine expert and awesome teacher). In the video, she walks folks through RAIN.

For me, recently two activities converged. I began posting more often on Facebook, and a friend I have known for decades started sharing a lot of posts I found offensive and racist. Since I didn’t think of this person as racist, I made an “Ah, c’mon” comment that I thought would seem non-judgmental and light-hearted. It did not go well, and I received some unexpected and mean backlash. When I went back to review previous posts from this person, it was clear that we have a big difference of opinion regarding race. Because I felt awful and had a hard time just letting this go, I used the RAIN technique.

The acronym RAIN, coined more than 20 years ago by Michelle McDonald, has been popularized by Tara Brach, PhD. The acronym stands for: Recognize what is happening; Allow the experience; Investigate with interest; Nurture with self-compassion.

Recognize requires taking time to look at the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. For me, the thought that repeated: I thought we were friends and I do not even know this person. I felt anxious, perplexed, abused, and embarrassed. How did I get this so wrong?

Allowing, for me, involved letting the experience just percolate, not beating myself up or making excuses for others. In just sitting quietly with the event, I realized my online comments resulted in a response of fury and disgust that I felt also held some sense of smug superiority.

To Investigate, I gave myself time by taking a few deep belly breaths and sat quietly to see what bubbled up. First, I acknowledged, offending someone else was never my intention. Then I reminded myself, I did the best I could at the time. What happened next surprised me. Just sitting calmly, old remarks and reactions from this person popped into my mind from decades ago. I remembered their best friend as an unabashed racist. I remembered the last time our paths had crossed, this person and their spouse gossiped about and made fun of other friends we had known while I sat uncomfortably, saying little. As other memories came to me, I realized this individual had not ever been a friend to me and most likely connected with me to feed information to my abusive ex-. Many other pieces of the puzzle fell into place. Initially I wondered How could I have missed that?! Rather than going down that rabbit hole, I moved on to offering myself compassion.

Nurturing myself, I repeated my go-to self-talk. I counted my blessings and repeated May I be safe, be healthy, be happy, be strong. I added the line from Brené Brown, I am here to get it right, not to be right. And, from Desiderata, the lines I recall most. Like the moon and the stars, I have a right to be here. Whether or not it is clear to me, the Universe is unfolding as it should.

In the end, I realized if I had it to do over, I might have approached this individual differently. I could have asked by private message about their posts and why they felt committed to their philosophies. I would have had a chance to try to understand why they believed what I understand as false stereotypes that, in the end, seemed likely to hurt them as well as others. I realized where my feelings came from and feel confident that I can move forward with a new understanding of the old relationship. I want to speak and honor the truth, so I will add that this experience helped me see this individual as unkind and not a good time investment for me right now; I’m taking a break that may become a permanent fracture.

To me, knowledge is power. RAIN is an effective self-care/self-compassion tool that helps me reach a deeper understanding, find some peace, and develop insight. I plan to use this when I’m having one of Those Days, feeling frustrated and, at some level, anxious, overwhelmed, or confused.

In the hope of inspiring others, I’m sharing what works for me. Take time to explore what works for you.   To learn more about the RAIN technique, use this video to walk through the technique with an expert, Tara Brach: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W8e_tAEM80k

Next week I’ll share more about some of my other favorite tools and how they’ve worked for me. In the meantime, follow health guidelines, get some sunshine if you’re able to do so safely, move as well as you’re able, laugh often, and remember to be kind to yourself.

May you be healthy, be happy, be strong, be safe, and live a life of ease.

Gut Punched

This week I’m concerned about a lot of things with the potential to impact many lives. These include politics, poverty, and privilege. I’m feeling as if I’ve been punched in the stomach – the Sucker-Punch type that’s unexpected – my gut refuses to relax, my shallow breathing and spinning head make it worse.

You would think in our culture in the U.S.A. it would be humbling to learn of the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, an extraordinary woman who touched so many lives in such significant ways. I would think that we would all respect the loss. That we would take time to quit in-fighting and come together to talk about how she made things better for all people, but particularly women. I would think we’d find ways to work together to keep from slipping into either totalitarianism or anarchy (depending on one’s political perspective).

Somehow, that is not happening. Some people cackle in joy (believing, mistakenly, Justice Ginsburg created Roe v. Wade) while others weep inconsolably (believing the court and democracy will be irreparably broken with a patriarchal-loving replacement). The volume is cranked up so high we can’t hear one another. Frankly, that’s probably a good thing: I’m sick of the lies, name-calling, and back-biting.

We’re better off financially and educationally and in many other ways than most of the world’s population, yet we bickered ourselves into a vicious corner.

In so doing, we changed the culture. Scientists and even smart kids suddenly aren’t respected as they once were. Belligerence and conspiracy theories out-shout reason. Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color face the same challenges they have struggled with for over 400 years – and some people rejoice in that disgrace. Economies, from the personal to our national, flounder. People who believe in the “right to life” often neglect to cherish the lives of those locked up at our borders, death row inmates, children living in poverty, and people without health insurance. Even if you don’t work part-time as a crisis counselor, you know our shared pain, so I’ll stop with those reminders.

We have to face it, though. Life today carries a lot of extra stress on top of the daily stressors we always juggled.  We’ve all been gut-punched, some harder than others.

Fat people face even more stigma. (By the way, I prefer the word “fat” to other terms and define this group of people to include those who, in CDC language, “are overweight” and those “with obesity.” Fat folks make up more than two-thirds of the population in the USA.) (Yes, we are the majority.) Dedicated health professionals and journalists tie “obesity” repeatedly to Covid-19, though I haven’t found well documented studies or hard data to explain why this is so.[i]  Our national assumption that fat kills, I assume, plays into this.[ii]

After a quick glance at the numbers online, my very rough guess is that up to 70% of us in the U.S. have at least one risk factor while many have more.[iii]  While that may sound upsetting, and while I acknowledge the numbers are very rough estimates, it’s clear we’re all in this together. We need to start behaving as if we understand this.

And to get through this dilemma, we all need to practice rigorous self-care. I can name a half-dozen ways I’ve ignored self-care this past week. Skipping meals. Sleeping less. Blowing off morning meditation. Not responding to friends. Not asking for help. Not taking breaks. My problem, once I quit focusing on my needs, is that things spiral out of control. When things get out of hand, I go Lizard-Brain.

For me, that means collapsing too frequently into that flight-flight-freeze zone (hello, amygdala!) that served our ancestors so well but doesn’t make for effective civilized interaction. I participated in a melt-down with a 7-year-old over homework (as if the sky will fall because of dilly-dallying) and burst into tears when a 5-year-old told me to move out (the comment accidentally pushed an old trauma-related button). I started to catastrophize. I’m so good at it I could give Stephen King and Dean Koontz advice about worst case scenarios! 😉

The thing about this?  I know this happens when I don’t care for myself. I knew I wasn’t caring for myself. Duh. My go-to move when I’m drifting into catastrophizing has been to stop and recite my gratitude list (I’m grateful for a bed to sleep in, the color of the late night sky outside my window…) or to repeat I am safe. I am healthy, happy, and strong. I am at ease. Last week I shrugged them off. Each day that passed, I kicked myself and added a bit more to my To-Do list instead of kicking back and taking things off the list. And, as expected, each day felt more challenging.

From age 2 until I married and moved out, my parents reminded me every day my job was to take care of and protect my younger brother. And from there, it was such an easy step into taking care of lots of others, most of whom behaved badly. Just before he died (at age 38), my brother told me, “You know, it was never your job to take care of me. I always knew, but I don’t know if you did.” I cried buckets. Before his funeral, my mom remarked, “I don’t know why you always thought it was your job to take care of him.” I glared at her, shocked, and she shrugged and chuckled. “Oh,” she said, “I guess we let you think it was your job.”

Those two huge messages were heard, but their enormity didn’t move me to slow my care-taking.

Fast forward too-many years, during which time I learned the high price I pay for ignoring self-care. It took some pain, recognizing that taking time for myself and meeting my own needs is not selfish, and making those choices. In fact, self-care leaves me feeling healthier, more authentic, and, coincidentally, I seem to take better care of those around me without behaving like a doormat.

Unsolicited Advice: Figure out what you need and want, then do your best to give it to yourself. Start with the basics.

Eat as if you know your body is smart and important. For me, Intuitive Eating gave me skills and a solid foundation that work for me. I recognize hunger and satisfaction, know ignoring my body around these works against me because doing so in the past always ended in an eating make-up session. (When it does happen, it’s okay. These days make-up sessions fall far short of binges and make sense to me.) IE is not about feeling like a failure when something seems to go wrong. Analyze. Adjust. Move forward.

Get enough sleep. From the book Say Good Night to Insomnia, I learned that my goal of 8 hours of sleep each night probably isn’t realistic. From 7 to 9 hours are “average,” but people who get 7 hours of sleep actually outlive people who sleep 8 hours. The research (thanks to my local public library!) helped me re-set my goal to increase my normal 6-ish hours to work toward 7 most nights.

Keep learning. Since childhood I’ve been curious and therefore committed to lifelong learning. Now I’m focused on anti-racism since it’s critically important to developing the kind of safe, inclusive, fair society I’d like my grandsons to grow up in. The free training, a 30-day challenge (2 hours/day) is through www.theantiracisttable.com.

Make space for growth and healing. For me, taking time outside daily soothes; watching movies (generally, comedies because I’m needing upbeat endings) relaxes me; learning new things energizes me; time in a pool or near large bodies of water invigorates me; exercising silliness with my grandsons uplifts me; travel opens me; and reading informs and entertains me. Know what works for you and take time for yourself.[iv]

FINAL WORDS

It’s hard being a human in this world right now. There’s a lot to worry about. Take time for yourself first. Everyone uses the old in-flight oxygen-mask safety briefing to make this point because it’s true. You can’t give to others (or save their lives by putting on their masks) if you don’t first take care of yourself. Mask-up and enjoy the week!


[i] The CDC website does mention obesity as a factor, though it didn’t, the last time I checked, note any studies that implicated obesity. Note that obesity is considered by the CDC to be a “disease” since the AMA declared it so. The AMA decision went against the recommendations of the panel of experts who studied the measure, but gave carte blanche to bill for “treatment” during office visits and moved expensive bariatric surgery from the “elective surgery” category to billable to insurance companies.

[ii] Studies do show that stigma kills. Some studies also report that fat people avoid medical care or wait until symptoms are more serious before seeking medical attention because they’re so disillusioned about the way they were treated in the past based on negative/moralistic judgments assigned to size.

[iii] By the time you add up BIPOC  (25.5% of the population, including Black, American Indian, Alaskan Native, Asian, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander, Biracial, and people claiming “Other” race), elders (ages 65 and better)(16.4%), fat people (31.8% overweight and 39.8% “have obesity”), those living in poverty (10.5%), people living without health insurance (9.4%), and people with coronary heart disease (~5%, this excludes the 24% with high blood pressure) or diabetes (6%). Even considering a generous portion of these categories may overlap, 70% is not unreasonable. (Data sources for these facts are: data.census.gov, hopkinsmedicine.org, and cdc.gov).

[iv] Currently reading Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman, Say Good Night to Insomnia by Gregg D. Jacobs, PhD, Notes of a Native Son by James Baldwin, Permission to Feel by Marc Brackett, PhD, and on my Kindle just downloaded The Old Girls’ Network by Janet Leigh. Variety is good.

Taking a Deep Breath

Growing up in the Olden Days (that is, after malt shops faded away but while cruising Main Street held popular appeal for teens), good parenting seemed defined using very different standards. For example, I cannot remember a single time when my parents – or anyone’s parents I knew – offered praise. The most familiar comment I recall erupting from the mouths of the large gaggle of family members who showed up and interrupted my reading was “Children are to be seen and not heard.” Normally this came moments before we were all – my brother, me, our cousins – shoved out the door to play for hours where we would be neither seen nor heard.

Not complaining, but it does explain a bit about why, as one kind woman told me, I’m good at “troubleshooting.” What she meant was that I can identify what’s wrong with just about any situation if I take a look. And I did look, though I rarely wondered why, beyond insatiable curiosity, I took the time, for example, to figure out why the engine in the old Studebaker sounded off before I mentioned it to my dad. (I decided the old V-8 was missing on one of the cylinders before I reported it to my dad. He went outside, listened, nodded, and correctly identified which plug to pull.)

When it came to my own life, given all the children I knew received significant feedback related to what we did wrong and not a peep about what anything we did well, I developed a habit of avoiding negative feedback as much as possible by looking for what could go wrong. When I knew what could cause trouble, I avoided it. Blaming others after the fact, a sibling’s go-to response, offended my sense of moral outrage, so I didn’t do that. My first thought focused on my own actions and how to avoid negative reactions from adults. From triple-checking homework as a child I moved to investing one minute to writing a brief email and 15 minutes to over-thinking and editing it.

And with that perspective of staying out of trouble, I attended “lifestyle” workshop 3. The formal topic: breaking down “bad” habits and replacing them with “good” ones. Of course, introducing more moralistic judgment (who gets to decide the basis for what’s “bad” and what’s “good”?) into my life left me feeling queasy. “Bad” habits: slumping, sitting too much, shallow breathing, unplanned snacking, “unhealthy” snacks, drinking soda/pop. “Good” habits: straight posture, cardio 5 days a week for 30 minutes, planned meals and snacks. I disagreed in theory but refrained from arguing.

My positive take-aways from the class:

  • Instead of setting a 30-minute a day goal for joyful activity (without swimming I flounder to even get close to a half-hour), take 10-minute activity breaks instead, building up gradually by adding 10-minute spurts.
  • For each goal/intention in life, write down 3 reasons the goal is personally important. (I use a gratitude journaling technique that includes stating a 1 or more reasons I’m grateful as well.)
  • To avoid feeling winded when engaging in movement, breathe intentionally feeling the inhale through the nose, through the throat and chest and into the belly with the belly soft. Exhale intentionally, from the belly up, contracting muscles from the belly up to help expel the breath.
  • In any area of life, rather than focusing on what’s not-working, claim what is working and build on that instead.

To be honest, the last month of IE, focusing on gentle nutrition and not forbidding any foods, I appear (via a borrowed scale) to have lost enough weight that it’s not a one-day water-weight drop. The realization shook me because, in true style, I’m worried about falling into the negative, the Delusion of Diet Culture. Logically, I’ve avoided Diet-Driven behaviors that seem unlikely to last a lifetime (such as weighing portions, counting calories, and eliminating “bad” foods or food groups). However, I paused to take stock, worried that stepping that close to Diet-World is enough to rattle my good sense.

After a quick check-in, I think I’m okay. Activity is something I added, including some therapeutic knee exercises, a 60-minute easy (no-sweating) yoga class, and 10-minute bursts of joyful exercise 4 or 5 times a week. The short daily knee workout and the weekly yoga (soon to be 2 times a week yoga) are both about helping with specific health challenges. The activity bursts with my grandsons often occur spontaneously and involve launching short happy playlists and looking goofy while sweating, dancing, and singing along.  Gratitude journal notes also help me stay calm and on track.

My morning meditation sputters and lacks a steady routine due to the periodic late nights and the necessity of engaging with young children early in the morning. However, I wedge a minute or several minutes in for a heart-focused pause. My water intake could use a boost, the doctor says, so working to increase that modestly by paying attention, carrying around a stainless-steel refillable cup, and sipping a bit more.  

As for sleep, I know what to do but could aptly name my nighttime routine Struggle. Having a schedule works and makes sense, but sometimes while I’m studying or writing I fall into an unscheduled groove (psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi would call it “flow”) during which time disappears. When I re-enter the earth’s atmosphere, I feel energized and have accomplished a lot, but realize it is hours past lights-out. Whoops. I lowered my caffeine intake, keep a sleep log, and strive to do better with sleep since it has such a big impact on my life.

What keeps me up nights? Compelling books like Stamped from the Beginning (a history of racism in the US by Ibram Kendi). And I’ve been hooked a few times by novels from authors Alice Hoffman or Barbara O’Neal. I take free and nearly-free classes or workshops to learn about a variety of topics (cooking, feng shui, and sleep are recent ones). Almost a week ago, I enrolled in a 30-Day Anti-Racist Table Challenge with lessons and journal entries to complete each day. I’ve also enjoyed classes through http://www.edx.org and www.Udemy.com, one offers classes for audit (edX) though both are low-cost. Also stay up investigating topics of interest.

One topic that bubbled up: digestive disorders (because they seem more common in my family). I’m certainly no expert and claim zero medical expertise. However, I learned some researchers have expressed concerns about the relationship between gut health/gut diseases (like GERD) and disordered eating of the sort that’s championed in diets (such as eating a lot of extra fiber or forbidding any food with sugar or eliminating groups of foods like “carbs” or “processed” foods). One study stated about 15% of the general population is considered to have digestive disorders but among people with eating disorders research shows up to 90% have digestive disorders. Fascinating! Early research seems to point to a relationship between eating disorders or disordered eating and functional gut disorders. The research also indicates a more diverse diet leads to a healthier gut/microbiome. Good to know! (For a bit of info related to the gut/microbiome, suggest the easy-to-read book Gut by Giulia Enders and episode 175 of the podcast Food Psych featuring Marci Evans: the truth about digestion and gut health (visit: https://christyharrison.com/foodpsych/6/the-truth-about-digestion-and-gut-health-with-marci-evans).)

Clearly, I haven’t climbed aboard a bullet-train toward having all the answers when it comes to eating. For me, Intuitive Eating and Health at Every Size (HAES) provide the most promising path to follow. We’ll all know when the culture reaches that station, though, because the people we’ll admire and see in prominent places will come in all shapes, sizes, ages, ability-levels, sexual-identities, and hues.

Two Steps Back

Mashing up contradictions feels like locking feuding family members into a small space to work out their differences. Without a referee it seems unlikely useful dialogue will flow. In this case, striving to satisfy my medical provider’s nudge into a “lifestyle program” (diet group) for health reasons (“obesity is linked to diabetes, heart disease, Covid-19”) while holding onto my well-researched belief that the Intuitive Eating/HAES path best complements my values and sticks with basic science (as we currently know it), I opted to merge two paths. Sometimes stepping back hones perspective, so that’s what I did.

The doc and I have the same overall goal: good health. The word “health” carries some sticky connotations, though. Ironically, “healthcare” organizations don’t have consistent definitions and many of those demonize fat humans without providing science to support their bias. For me, achieving a state of overall improved health means (1) gaining strength and stamina so I eliminate painful knee days (I can live pain-free with OTC medication in limited doses, but prefer not to use these), (2) Getting back to some basic hiking or at least periodic oceanside walks or garden strolls, (3) Improving my evolving self-care practices around stress (less) and sleep (more), and (4) Paying more attention to gentle nutrition so my blood-test related health markers remain “normal.”

While a mashup of programs sounded easy enough, I discovered I had some bumps to iron out when I attended the “lifestyle program” orientation two weeks ago. I don’t expect this journey to flow like a mountain stream in spring. I expect obstacles and realize where the “lifestyle program” and Intuitive Eating/HAES guidelines diverge. Back to that in a minute. First, here’s how the orientation went.

Virtual attendees were congratulated for connecting with the “lifestyle program” and the moderators described their credentials. I noted the folks who moderated included a registered nurse, a registered dietician, and a licensed social worker. All had more than 5 years of experience and, in general, seemed pleasant and enthusiastic.

During the opening a moderator noted “many people” in this “program” lost 30 to 50 pounds during their year-long participation. The “lifestyle program” components included improving daily habits, healthy eating, and increasing physical activity. In theory, these fit my goals as well. I took the time to write out my personal goals related to the daily habits and physical activity components. For healthy eating, I’d already decided to gently implement the Healthy Plate.[i] The “program” also uses this model.

“This program is not about dieting but making a lifestyle change,” the primary moderator said a dozen times during the presentation, though the rest of the dialogue seemed a hodgepodge of typical Diet Culture advice laced with a few “program” components. For example, the list of forbidden foods like sugar, juice, and alcohol. The Great Success Story featured someone who finished the “lifestyle program” a few months ago and kept the weight off for several months, so far. No data is kept on the success of the program in helping participants retain weight loss. This isn’t unusual. Long term weight loss retention (even as long as 2 to 5 years) is rarely tracked because it discourages participants.[ii] Study after study shows dieting (by any name) has a very poor success rate.[iii]

Sample contradictory comments from my notes: “This is not a diet. No measuring or weighing of foods. Does that sound like a diet? No.” “However, measuring is required the first few months” or if people run into problems (I assume slowing weight loss). And, again, “This is not a diet. This is a lifestyle change.” Then, the “program requires keeping a food log and eating 3 meals and 2 snacks” at specific intervals. Other requirements: using small plates, limiting sugar free beverages except water, and a specific number of specific-sized servings of protein, starch, fruit, vegetables, water, fat, and dairy products daily in order to stay within “the calorie limits per day” based on gender and height. Again, “this is not a diet.”

Out of curiosity I did a quick online search for “healthy eating.” Of course, every self-proclaimed “expert” has opinions, but the WHO website notes “Evidence shows the benefits of a diet high in fruit, vegetables, legumes, nuts and grains, but lower in salt, free sugars and fats, particularly saturated and trans fats.”[iv] What struck me as absent: the protein and dairy food categories that obsess us in the USA.

In the end, the program goal (“each participant will lose 5% to 7% of their body weight”) and my personal goal differ since I have no goal related to a number on a scale. Another “program goal” for each participant involves attending weekly sessions for several months and then engaging with program staff periodically for coaching after the training.

The wrap up lacked a positive tone. The speaker asked, “Why did you gain weight?” I wrote in my notes: Set point trashed by too many diets? I waited to share and crickets in responsetold me folks took this as a rhetorical question. The speaker commented, “Quite a few of you – I know your names – are back because you didn’t have a plan to retain your weight loss.” Two things struck me: the audacity of not even considering for a moment that the program could be the problem, and the cruelty inherent in fat-shaming people who showed up. The moderator offered a quick reminder that the program required eating every 4 hours. I understand the diet-culture rationale for doing that, but I’ve eaten by-the-clock and adherence kept me out of touch with my body while it strengthened the notion the brain should rule the heart and gut with reason and discipline instead of working in a partnership. Since I’ve gotten really good at recognizing hunger before I’m ravenous – a real improvement for me – I don’t want to sacrifice that. When I respond to hunger by eating, I easily stop when I’m satisfied. When I wait for a specific time, I’m often ravenous and end up over-full.

The final component introduced: daily weight logging at home with a mandatory weekly check-in of weight or weight loss and exercise minutes completed. Many things are reported to the referring MD and noted in the patient chart, including failure to check-in with weight, failure to attend training, and I’m guessing other potential failures that remain unstated at this time.

After the orientation, I signed up for the rest of the series. In the 2 weeks before the next workshop, I completed two workshops on improving sleep and a stress reduction workshop. I took advantage of an opportunity (through my volunteer work) to sign up for the Headspace app and, through my medical insurance, to sign up for CALM. Both apps help me in different areas. Headspace meditations work for me. CALM has some nature sound tracks that I find very soothing. I also started a yoga for stress relief class and bookmarked two short trainings related to flexibility and strength training.

And where is the time for these activities coming from? So far, a combination of less focus on social media (I took Facebook off my smartphone) and a big reduction in time spent on the news (from checking 6 news sources to 2). It’s a process, a transition, and though it’s a leap of faith, I have a sense it’s going to work out even when it feels a bit like 2 steps back. Blazing a new trail is worth the effort.


[i] For more info, visit https://www.choosemyplate.gov/ but keep in mind that the CDC updates the guidelines about every 5 years and a new “healthy eating” document is due in Dec 2020.

[ii] Take some time to search weight loss retention statistics. I couldn’t find a program that kept weight loss and retention data beyond 52 weeks (1 year). Some keep limited info on limited populations but the final statistic (based on all who entered the program) doesn’t appear. In a VA “MOVE” study, 45-50% of participants dropped out after the first meeting. Across commercial weight loss groups, ~40-50% seems average. Accurate statistics require looking at every person who starts the program, not just those who finish.

[iii] For one easy-to-read summary, look at Anti-Diet by Christy Harrison, MPH, RD (pages 85-90)

[iv] https://www.who.int/health-topics/healthy-diet#tab=tab_1

One Step Forward

For a few years I’ve been interested in Intuitive Eating and Health at Every Size, and for the last year I’ve been working to integrate Intuitive Eating principles into my life. My relationship with food has changed. A lot. Enough to convince me to launch a new self-care adventure. In order to understand what follows, I wanted to share the circumstances that led to a decision I made as well as what inspired me. Over the next six months, I’ll share how it all goes.

This journey started with a routine check-in with my doctor that didn’t go as well as I’d hoped. Since this happened during a pandemic, it’s understandable that most sane folks already feel a bit off-kilter on a daily basis. Anxiety is through the roof for good reasons: health concerns, work worries, money freak-outs, separation and isolation, limited resources, contentious politics, and intentionally conflicting news reports.  So, in addition to the normal high anxiety built into life these days, add stress about going into a medical clinic during a pandemic to mingle with potentially sick strangers wandering around inside.

The visit didn’t start well. I had to wait outside in hot weather, standing in a security line with people who refused to socially-distance. Once inside the door my level of freak-out ratcheted up because, while the clinic required several safety measures, clinic staff inside routinely ignored other visitors who disregarded those “rules” by removing their protective masks or invading the space of other patients.

When I successfully made it beyond the gatekeepers (security, payment, weigh-in that showed a small weight gain, a medical check-in with a nurse for my aching back), I waited a few minutes for Doc. The usually affable and smiling person I expected entered, looked at my medical record, frowned, gazed momentarily in my general direction, and grimly commented it’s time to talk about ob*s*ty. Your BMI has gone up and BMI is a very important measurement.

Until that discussion, I honestly believed the doctor saw me as an intelligent woman and a worthy-while-fat human being. By the time we finished a much longer discussion during which I questioned the validity of the BMI (designed for use in measuring large populations, not to assess an individual’s health), I had little doubt I represented a reprehensible majority of fat folks who clogged up the well-oiled gears of this mammoth medical corporation.  

Doc scowled and commented Ob*s*ty puts you at very high risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and, of course Covid-19. Thinking this a discussion, I mentioned I used to teach statistics. Correlation between weight and those diseases doesn’t prove causation. In fact, I’m more concerned that science shows the importance of quality medical care and the role of stigma in health outcomes.

I didn’t mean it as an insult, but Doc’s response I’m talking about science, not stigma left little doubt I’d unintentionally hit a nerve. I tried to explain a bit about my 40-year dieting history. That is, successfully and repeatedly starving (and usually over-exercising) for about half that time, alternating with disordered eating that resulted in more and more quickly regaining any lost weight even though I ate less than before. Over and over again. Doc shook it off and insisted Caring about yourself is about not giving up. It’s about trying again. And again. And again. I listened, thinking this sounded very much like a prescription for dangerous yo-yo dieting so it couldn’t be standard for this by-the-book humongous medical business. I’m referring you to our healthy lifestyle program that’s all online now. You might learn something from it.

Now, I understand that it’s basic biology.[i] The body thinks famine (not ‘this idiot is starving themselves because they think it will make them healthy’) and everything slows down. I sighed at the realization that the “cure” for everything from my itchy eyes to my aching back is still weight loss. I thought about suggesting Doc tell me to get younger. That would definitely help. I didn’t make the suggestion.

Doc commented The program has a very good success rate. How good? I want to see data about weight loss retention at 5 and 10 years to show me something is permanent.[ii] But “medical science” apparently has a different perspective. Doc looked at me with a squint, so I could guess what came next. We track data for up to 12 months while people are in the program. Some lose 5 to 10% of their body weight.

I’m focusing on intuitive eating, I say. Doc responds, Well, whatever you’re doing is clearly not working. I just want you to live longer. Are you at least willing to attend? There’s no excuse; you don’t even have to leave the house. It’s all virtual right now. I was already inside my head when the word “compliance” popped up, so I missed the details. As soon as someone mentions compliance, my radar switches on. What I told myself Doc meant: If you end up sick we’re not going to give 100% because you don’t care enough to do what you’re told.

It felt like a life-and-death decision, so I agreed to register for and attend the orientation. (More about that another day, but at the orientation they said compliance is part of the program requirements with non-compliance noted in participants’ medical records.)

The upside: the experience helped me to recognize how my relationship with food has changed.

I climbed into the driver’s seat, turned on the engine and the a/c, buckled my seatbelt, took a few deep breaths, and checked in with my body. At that moment, after six consecutive nights of 5 or 6 hours of sleep, I definitely felt the fatigue and noticed a burning rawness, as if I had been attacked and singed by the flames of the experience, but aside from frustration with the impersonal medical system, I felt  disappointed with the doctor who didn’t have time to listen and didn’t want to hear, felt some residual shame from not having one of the 20% of the population’s slender bodies[iii], and some anger about all the failed diets that slowly drove up my weight. I wondered, would eating something comfort me? I sat quietly. A few years ago, I knew I would have driven to the nearest no-no store and gotten something decadent. This time, though, having given myself permission to eat whatever my body wants, I realized the good breakfast I’d eaten prior to the appointment stayed with me and I felt zero hunger. I asked myself what might help? What I longed to do: have a cry, and punch something inanimate repeatedly.

Lacking the inanimate object to pummel (though I really do want to learn how to throw a proper punch), I cried for a minute or two. After that I realized how disgusted I’ve grown with diet nightmares that end (95+% of the time) with dashed hopes, a lighter wallet, and feelings of complete failure (aimed at Self, not the Diet). I reminded myself that Diet Culture (now a $72B a year business) loves to lure people in under multiple guises (diets, lifestyle-, health-, mindfulness-, and wellness-programs are hot money makers right now) but Diet Culture silently cheers when people fail. Why? Well, duh. Out of the 48+ Million dieters in the US this year, repeat customers are how they earn the big bucks.

I attended the orientation with an open mind. The “lifestyle” program requires logging all food/drinks, strictly adhering to calorie counts, weighing/measuring food, drinking lots of water, exercising at least 300 minutes a week, and weekly (or daily) weigh-in. To me, these are all clear signs of a Diet Culture Program demanding total fixation on food. That strategy has failed me so often, I can’t bear to go back to that type of thinking. But after the orientation, the question that haunted me remained. What do I do? Deal myself in for a doomed diet and hurt my own body? Reject the inhumane and unproven strategy outright knowing it could have consequences? Blaze a different trail?

My decision: there will be no digging for the mythical slender old-lady inside me who longs to be set free. She quit tormenting me 20 years ago. The Real Me is smart enough to focus on finding contentment in each day, practicing gentle nutrition and joyful movement, working toward better sleep, expanding mindfulness practices, and the magic of gratitude. It’s not perfect, but it’s a perfectly acceptable start.


[i] And this ignores Set Point Theory.

[ii] So far, even surgical solutions aren’t looking promising to me in the long-term.

[iii]These are the people who wouldn’t survive a famine but remain the ideal for many reasons.

Self-Care Hacks

Ever find yourself at some random time –early afternoon or at 2 o’clock in the morning – while the world appears blissfully at peace and you’re not?  Now and then, during those quiet times, I manage to take something small and wind myself up into a hot mess.

Here’s an example: someone dear to me has a swimming lesson scheduled at 9 a.m. I fall asleep around 11 p.m., a little worried, awaken at 2:30 a.m., and immediately begin cataloging everything that could go wrong. Contaminated pool. Diving accident. A playful shove results in a traumatic brain injury. A rabid squirrel attacks in the parking lot. All those things are possible, but I already know the pool is well maintained, the class sizes are very small, there are certified life guards on duty, staff address rules violations (like pushing and running), the teachers are also life guards, and the squirrel scenario is statistically remote.

Still, there’s always a chance of something going wrong. That’s part of life. There’s also a chance of everything going quite well.

In general and in households blessed with a safe non-war-torn community, the chance of something going well far exceeds the possibility of a worst-case-scenario. And “rehearsing” the worst possible scenario doesn’t actually reduce the pain of dealing with said scenario if it happens. On the other hand, that rehearsal does hurt because the self-imposed stress about a fantasy-disaster has a negative impact on all bodies and long-term health.

Caveat: When It’s Really Out of Control or Intuition Knocking

It probably goes without saying, but just in case…

Whenever someone is afraid/anxious because they heard a suspicious noise outside or thought they smelled smoke, good self-care means calling 9-1-1 to ask folks who are professionals to assist.

Likewise, any time any of us experience feelings that seem overwhelming, good self-care means reaching out. Some options include visiting the nearest hospital Emergency Room for professional help, directly connecting with a therapist, calling a hotline (I’ll include a few at the end of this), or contacting 9-1-1.

Ruling out those scenarios, I believe in the power of intuition. If you know yourself well enough to sort out when you’re catastrophizing from when your intuition is guiding you, trust yourself. If there’s something you can do, take action. I’m talking about garden-variety goofiness when I’m aware that what I’m scrolling through in my head seems unrealistic. Like a machete-wielding ninja squirrel in a parking lot.

Garden Variety Catastrophizing

My tips are how I cope with nights when I’m not falling asleep…  or the day I’m exhausted and those around me seem determined to rattle my nerves…  or the morning when my loved ones are out running errands and I hear sirens in the distance and immediately ask are they safe and try to determine where the sirens are heading and how that correlates to where my peeps headed. For many people, it’s easy to shrug off those prickly moments. For some, they’re a signal to pray. For me, when something jacks me up and I begin to think, oh, no, here’s what could happen… and, like a portal opening to a temple of doom, ideas fly out helter-skelter, these usually work.

  1. Check in with your body: does it need attention? In my experience, that’s about making sure I’m not fungry (f*#cking hungry) or crazy tired. Fatigue and hunger can escape the attention of our minds. When I convinced myself that 12-hour workdays (I loved my job) and 5 hours of sleep a night were totally okay, I didn’t recognize the impact for many months. My days off slowly morphed from shopping, completing household chores, and taking refreshing walks on the beach to spending weekends in a zombie-like state on my sofa, binge watching streaming videos, eating that-which-didn’t-need-to-be-cooked (and I love to cook!), and struggling to find the energy to finish two loads of laundry.

What I do: Pause. Take a breath. Conduct a body scan. And I ask myself (out loud is okay): How tired am I? (I like numbers, so I use a scale of 0 to 10 with 0=I’m ready to burst into dance and song! and 10=If I blink too slowly I’ll doze off.) For me, anything 5 or more means I need to rest. Same with hunger. (For me, 0=So stuffed I couldn’t eat a bite and 10=I would eat my shoes if I thought they were digestible.)

In either case, I give myself 5 to 60 minutes to focus on food and/or rest.

  • Rather than continuing the looping thoughts, I give myself some compassion. Here’s my take on a simple self-compassion meditation that can be completed in as little as 2 minutes.
    • Find a place where it’s possible to relax with eyes closed.
    • Take one or two deep breaths, focusing on inhaling as if through the heart and exhaling through the solar plexus.
    • Affirm, “I am struggling” or, as self-compassion expert Kristen Neff suggests, “I am suffering” or use words that acknowledge the pain. Pause. Take a breath.
      • Next, silently acknowledge that suffering is difficult. Pause. Sometimes I remind myself of this more than once. Take a breath or several breaths.
      • Silently acknowledge all people suffer at one time or another (this realization does not diminish anyone’s suffering but reminds us we’re not alone when we suffer!).
      • Put your hand or hands over your heart and affirm (aloud is good), May I be at peace OR May I be happy OR May I be healthy OR May I be safe OR May I be strong. Use any or all of these more traditional mindfulness phrases or use words that feel right.
    • When there’s time, I continue affirming health and happiness and expand those wishes to include my loved ones, neighbors, and the world.
    • Take a breath and open your eyes.
    • FYI: This wonderful practice is something I learned via www.edx.org in the Science of Happiness course. For more on Self-Compassion, including free guided meditations, visit Kristin Neff online at www.selfcompassion.org or search for her on YouTube where you’ll find more in-depth ino.

  • A dose of thankfulness. This is another quick pick-me-up that has always worked for me, often in as little as 30 seconds. I use this at times when, for example, I’ve read the news, and a news story sparked a negative spiral worrying about the future for my grandsons. My super simple intervention:
    • Take a deep breath to create a pause in the worrying.
    • Start with “I’m thankful for ___” and recite the list aloud (whispering is okay!).
      • Thinking of some stand-by items ahead of time helped me get the process moving. For example: I’m thankful for the blue of the sky on summer afternoons. I’m thankful for the songs of the birds living near my garden. I’m thankful for the sound of waves breaking on the shore. I’m thankful for: pineapple flavor jellybeans, fresh sushi with wasabi, roses, daisies, payday, gift cards, old growth trees, easy trails, good books, funny movies, family, friends, air conditioning, soft sheets, life.
      • This could take from a few seconds to several minutes and may require repeating things (that’s why I suggest coming up with some generic ideas that appeal to you in advance).
      • FYI: This technique I first used as a child after watching the movie White Christmas and the Irving Berlin song “Count Your Blessings.” Later, if I remember correctly, I was reminded by a talk during an online course (www.udemy.org) by Brene Brown. Glad I was paying attention because this has been a huge blessing for me.

A final self-care suggestion is to keep a Gratitude Journal. There are a lot of different ways to do this. The science (again, from the Science of Happiness course) that sounded the best fit for me is once a week. This takes about 10 minutes, depending upon how much I write. Some people feel hand-writing this activity is more effective than making a note on an electronic device, but I tend to believe whatever feels best to you is the way to go. The simple process I employ is to keep a separate journal in which I quickly write down, in a few words, 5 experiences from the past week for which I’m thankful. After I’m finished, I look them over and for each I write a sentence or two about why I’m thankful/what touched me about each. The time spent on why/what helps anchor the gratitude to something personally meaningful.

There are many more fabulous ways to practice self-care, so stay creative and remember you deserve the effort!

~July 2019

A few hotlines, as promised:

  • Crisis Counseling via Text: Text HELP to 741741 from anywhere in the US. Provides text- and email-based counseling with a trained Crisis Counselor.
  • The National Domestic Violence Hotline – 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)    Offers support, resources and advice for safety 24/7, 365 days a year.
  • Services designed with the needs of LGBTQ folks in mind:
  • The Trevor Helpline – 866-4-U-TREVOR, 1-866-488-7386    A national 24-hour, toll-free suicide prevention hot line aimed at LGBT and questioning youth.
  • IYG National Hotline for Gay, Bisexual and Lesbian Youth – 1-800-347-TEEN
    Provide info about national and local resources for LGBTQ teens.
  • Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender National Hotline – 1-888-843-4564 (1pm to 9pm Pacific Time, Mon-Fri) or http://www.glbthotline.org Provides peer counseling and resource information
  • Services designed with the needs of military veterans in mind:
    • Veterans Mental Health Crisis Line – (800) 273-8255 / or text 838255   Serves veterans, family, and friends. Operated by the US Department of Veteran Affairs.
    • Military Helpline – (888) 457-4838 / or text MIL1 to 839863.  Serves service members, veterans, and their families. Service is independent of any branch of the military or government.
    • National Call Center for Homeless Veterans – 877-424-3838
  • Rape, Abuse, Incest national help line (RAINN) – (800) 656-HOPE (4673) or www.rainn.org
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Agency National Helpline – (800) 662-HELP (4357)
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – (800) 273-8255.

If you’d just like someone to talk to but don’t consider yourself in crisis, search online for “warm lines” or “info lines” and find one that suits your needs.