Don’t let the clouds in: Ten ways to re-energize your spirit on a rainy day

Some of us love cold, cloudy, rainy days as they invite an opportunity to slow down and hole up in our cozy homes…and some of us dread them.  It can be hard to avoid letting the clouds from outside seep into our emotional state.  During winter months, up to 6% of the population (depending on which part of the country you live in — averages are much lower in warm states such as Florida) are affected by Seasonal Affective Disorder which is a type of depression that is triggered by long periods of darkness and cold.  The past few days in Denver have been cloudy and wet — very spring-like, but quite uncharacteristic of typical weather in sunny Colorado.  As I have noticed that sun-less days affect my energy level, I thought that I would focus today’s post on ways that we can bring energy and light into our days when there’s a lack of sunlight and warmth to offer that to us from the environment.  It is truly amazing how connected we are to our environments, and how the weather, temperature, and signs of nature can impact our view on the world.  If you ever feel low, tired, have a lack of energy or motivation, or feel signs of depression when the day is grey and rainy, you are not alone.  Let’s try to re-energize our spirits together! 

Here are ten ways to re-energize our spirits on a rainy day:

1.) Try to cultivate a mindset that appreciates the present moment for what it is because we know that the sun will shine again.  This can be a metaphor as well for obstacles or difficulties in our lives: this too shall pass and everything will be okay.  Yes, it may be dreary and rainy right now and that may lower your emotional state, but anticipate the sun shining again and the clouds parting.  Believe that it will pass and a rainbow will follow.

2.) Take this opportunity to spend time indoors, doing something you love.  All too often we put pressure on ourselves to DO. BE. SUCCEED. ACCOMPISH. When the sun doesn’t invite us outside, it can feel like we must spend that time indoors working on tasks that we do not enjoy.  I challenge you to just BE with yourself; put your t0-do list aside and curl up on the couch with your favorite companion.

3.) Break out the board games.  Yes, with the ever-imposing advent of technology, some of us may forget what it’s like to sit around a table with a board game.  This can be one of the most fun and relaxing activities to do on a rainy day — spending hours with loved ones focusing on one task and avoiding multiple distractions.

4.) Try out a new recipe.  Soups and sandwiches are typical “rainy day” food, but it can be fun to try also to bake a cake or make a dish that you have always wanted to try but never had the time to do.  Bonus: at the end of the day you have a delicious meal to enjoy!

5.) Break out that rainy-day fund.  You know that saying — “save that dollar for a rainy day”.  How often do you actually use that money?  Well here’s your chance.  Use that money (and it doesn’t have to be much….even $5 will do) to buy or do something that you never take the time to do.  Something fun can be getting a pedicure or browsing at a bookstore for that book that you have been wanting to get.

6.) Organize.  Yes I know that cleaning and organizing is definitely not energizing for many people.  So this one might not be for you.  However, restoring some order to your shelves or cleaning out that closet that you haven’t peeked in for months can help us feel freer and more relaxed.  Bonus: you might find old treasures that you forgot you owned!

7.) Call up an old (or a new) friend or family member.  Our lives are busybusybusy.  By the time we get work, cooking, cleaning, shopping, etc done for the day, we’re exhausted and don’t feel like doing anything else.  We may have let friendships go or put on hold because our lives do not allow for the time to nourish them.  I bet that a good friend you have not talked with in a while would be overjoyed to hear from you, and that reconnecting with him or her will leave a smile on your face as well!

8.) Play a musical instrument or engage in an art project.  Art and music both have the power to calm us and energize us at the same time and they can feed our brains as well as our souls.  Something fun to do can be creating mandalas — or circles of art symbols and colors that have meaning to your life.  Pick up your guitar or play on the piano that you took lessons on for years.  Teach a friend how to play or create art.  Do it together. 

9.) Travel to another place.  Okay, you might not be able to actually go somewhere but you certainly can travel in your own mind.  Watch the Discovery channel and voyage to another culture (me being an animal lover and a travel enthusiast, I love to watch “Life”), thumb through travel magazines, or delve into your favorite book that takes you back in time.  Investing our time in books and culture enriches our lives and imaginations.

10.) Get a massage.  Our bodies hold our emotions and tensions, and we must release those feelings in many different ways.  Getting a full-body massage not only relaxes our muscles, but allows us to relax our minds and just “BE” in the present moment.  It is amazing what we can discover about ourselves and our memories by allowing a trained professional to work on our bodies.  We must take care of our bodies as well as our minds.  If massage is not something for you, take care of your body in another way — go to the gym or do yoga in your living room.

The sun always comes out again and a rainy day does not need to mean that it is a bad day.  It is your choice to make it a positive day and I hope that some of these ideas can help you re-energize!

Fight or flight? How instinct and fear determine our reaction to stress

We all know what stress feels like.  Stress has become so commonplace in our everyday lives that we expect it each day and sometimes even become dependent on it.  There can be some benefit to experiencing stress: like anxiety, a healthy level of stress can help keep us motivated to accomplish our to-do lists or make new goals.  However, the negative effects of stress severely outweigh the positive effects and when we encounter a highly stressful situation our reaction may be more physical than emotional.  The overwhelm of facing an unpredictable stressor can put us back to our very instincts: will we stay and fight this threat or will we flee?  The intent is the same: we want to eliminate the stress, but some of us choose to directly engage with the stressful situation in order to lessen its threat level, and others of us choose to get away from the stress in order to protect ourselves and our loved ones.

Think about a stressful situation — one that required immediate reaction.  Perhaps it is having an encounter with someone who is challenging for you to relate to, or perhaps it is facing a fear of heights.  Both of these situations require us to make a quick judgment:  do you stay and work through the strong feelings this situation brings up, or do you flee?  Sometimes you have only a few seconds to decide.  While it might be more worthwhile in the end to sit on it and analyze all possible outcomes, weighing the rewards versus drawbacks to making a particular choice, the very nature of a highly stressful encounter makes it impossible to do so.  As animals often resort to their instincts, we humans tend to want to think about it over and over again — and this process may increase the level of threat the stress can pose to us.

In tying to the nature vs. nurture debate, I’m thinking about why we react the way we do.  Say for example, we encounter a drunk person who begins to make insulting comments about one of our loved ones.  You know that this person has a history of becoming violent when challenged.  Do you speak up to this person right then or do you try to let it cool down and then devise an action plan?  This decision could be based on many factors, but I believe that the factors that most influence our immediate reaction are 1.) perceived level of threat, 2.) the way that we have handled conflict before and the way conflict was handled in our families growing up, and 3.) the nature of the threat — is this person going to emotionally or physcially harm someone that I love?  Will confronting them decrease the level of threat or will it raise it?  And, since fear is a major predictor of behavior, are we fearful of this person or of the predicted outcome that will occur if we do not confront him?

An aspect of stress that is often overlooked is its physical effects on our bodies.  I am always hopeful when someone comes into my office and is aware that the back pain and the arm numbness that they have been experiencing are most likely related to the various types of emotional stressors in their lives.  A client described to me the other day that she knows she eats a lot of unhealthy food in order to numb the feelings of guilt she has about dealing with her parents’ deteriorating health.  This has in turn caused her to develp shin splints, making it very painful to run.  As stress can affect our bodies and our muscles in many ways, highly stressful situations also have a direct effect on our bodies.  In the fight or flight moment, our bodies may shake, our throats may become dry, we may lose our appetite or get a stomach ache.  Historically, our bodies’ stress responses have been designed to help motivate us to run or fight in that threating environment.  Now, as we decide how we are going to respond, our bodies are consumed by the stress of making this choice and our adrenaline is soaring.  There are numerous ways our bodies can tell us that they are stressed out.  As we become more aware of what our bodies are telling us, we can make appropriate decisions as to how to handle the stress so that it decreases instead of increases.

I know that in the moment, the stress of deciding whether to fight or flee is all-consuming.  Experiencing this intense level of anxiety can change our perception of stress completely.  This event can in turn affect our digestive systems and our sleeping patterns and disrupt our lives in many other ways.  Conflict and stress are unavoidable, but their effects can be treated.  If you are experiencing the after effects of a highly stressful situation, please talk to loved ones, a therapist, or a doctor.  Also know that the anxiety will subside and this encounter will make you more resilient and strong as you walk down the path of life.

Intimate connections without the sex?: how cuddle parties are revolutionizing modern boundaries

I received an invitation to a cuddle party some years ago, and I admit my first reaction was confusion mixed with a bit of skepticism.  Is it like an orgy? a rave? a combination of both?  I did not attend, but it seems that since that first interaction with the term, I have been hearing more and more about cuddle parties and their rising fame.  So, to set the record straight so that your mind doesn’t wander quite like mine did, a cuddle party is “a safe and structured workshop on boundaries, communication, intimacy, and affection.  It is a drug and alcohol-free way to meet fascinating people in a relaxed environment.”  Hmmm…..sounds suspiciously similar to the goals that I work with client to achieve in therapy.  This made me curious about the effects of cuddle parties and how they are similar/different to the outcomes in talk or other forms of therapy.

Are cuddle parties a form of therapy?  The jury is out on that one.  The official cuddle party website, which organizes cuddle parties all over the country states that “this playful and fun environment has been a place for people to rediscover non-sexual touch and affection, a space to reframe assumptions about men and women, and a great networking event to meet new people”.  The site even suggests that cuddle parties could “restore your faith in humanity”.  It seems that cuddle parties can offer a non-judgmental, open, and free space for people to let go of assumptions and physically heal through touching another person.  I like this idea, because it seems that our culture has an obsession with “having lots of space”.  Whether it is through building huge houses or driving monstrous SUVs, we appear to give off the message that “bigger is better” and “please don’t get too close”.  So, I wonder, what happens when we get THISCLOSE?

A cuddle party (also referred to as a cuddle puddle — so cute!!!) is a group experience where one-on-one pairings are referred to as “cuddlebuddy relationships”, and kissing can sometimes occur.  At each meeting, the attendees decide on the rules and regulations of that cuddle party.  These might have to do with specific forms and places of touch that might be off-limits.  Through this collective rule-setting, members can learn about setting personal and group boundaries and can experience the therapeutic powers of intimate connection without the expectation of sex.  It also can be an exercise in communication between people of all ages, backgrounds, ethnicities, socioeconomic classes, and spiritual types.

This make me wonder: when we get pleasure and joy through physical connection, how do we determine our limits, wants, needs, and hopes?  For some who have a history of a sexual trauma, being physically close with someone they do not know well could be triggering.  However, learning that intimacy can be safe and can bring peace might also be a piece of that member’s personal healing journey.  Physical intimacy certainly brings out our vulnerabilities: whether it is about body image, sexual attraction, or scars left from previous relationships, some type of sensation occurs in our physical and emotional self as we allow others to get into our personal space.  This sensation is what we must take a closer look at to determine its meaning in our lives.

As I was doing research on cuddle parties, I took note of the comments left on sites and videos featuring this innovative event.  Some commented that these were “glorified orgys” and that “they should get naked and go home” (this reminds me that cuddle party members are not naked and often wear pajamas or other comfortable clothing).  Others were “touched by the affection.  For those of us who might not have received many hugs or much affection growing up, cuddle parties offer the healing and acceptance we have been longing for”.  And the most poignant:  “It is kind of sad.  Human beings are not getting what they need in the modern world; the sense of touch is so important”.  Sometimes we just need a hug!

What is your consensus?  If you are curious you can join a cuddle party today at the Denver Cuddle Party Meet-up.

Take a look at this YouTube video montage about the first five years of cuddle party culture.  I feel that as with every thing that might be a bit new and “different”, the more that we talk about it, educate ourselves, and open our minds, the greater rewards we can reap into our personal selves. Hug a stranger!


Painting the colors of our soul: how art therapy helps us heal

Today I met with Denver art therapist Erin Brumleve, who shared with me how art can help clients express themselves, heal, and process difficult emotions in the therapeutic process.  I was fascinated by the parallels of our two practices, both of which have goals to help clients  initiate change and promote wellness, and I am struck by the ways these goals can be facilitated in diverse ways.  Erin works often with children and families who are going through transitions such as divorce, adoption, or processing trauma and through the use of her extensive art therapy room, offers clients an alternative to talk therapy for expressing their feelings (and sometimes using art can decrease anxiety and make it easier to talk as well).

I am writing about art therapy today as a sort of extension of the blog post I wrote a little while back about the effects of music therapy.  Both music and art (and dance, another form of healing expression) offer us modalities to express our feelings when sometimes words might be lost or too difficult to say.  By singing or playing an instrument, or by drawing the feelings that we have inside, we utilize different parts of our brain to release these buried feelings.  Art therapy is a form of expressive therapy that uses art materials such as paint, chalk, clay, markers, and other forms of creativity to freely process feelings and emotions.  It is a combination of psychotherapy and artistic representation of the creative process — and it is amazing the affective power that certain types of art can have over our feelings.  Have you ever felt moved by a painting or sculpture that really spoke to an experience you have had or evoked a memory from long ago?  How about the way that we can seemingly leave our reality behind as we channel passion and discovery into an artistic creation?

There tend to be two ways of looking at the power of art therapy.  The first involves honoring the creative and healing process of creating a piece of art.  In this way, the actual process of creation and the thought and emotion that is put behind this process is therapeutic — an authentic representation of imagination.  The second form of art therapy believes in the powerful meaning that our artistic creations can hold for us.  This facet, known as artistic psychotherapy, emphasizes the drawings and products of our work as a means for communicating our feelings, conflicts, and issues in an alternative way.  Mandalas, colorful circles with symbolic meaning, have been referred to by Carl Jung as “a representation of the unconscious self”.  Art therapy offers numerous forms of transformation, whether it is through the process of creating art or through deconstructing the messages that our art tells us.

So what are the benefits of art therapy?  Art therapists believe that art is a form of entry into our lives in a way that lowers the barrier:  all of us can be creative in some sense or another, and this process of discovery is a easy way to open up.  Art therapy is especially helpful for children, as expressing feelings through drawing or creation is perhaps less daunting than trying to verbalize with words the things they feel (and this can also be the case for adults).  Just as a psychotherapist can help you uncover themes and patterns through interpretation of your story in talk therapy, art therapists are skilled at helping us depict the meaning of our art in a way that applies to our everyday reality.  Things about ourselves that we may not even notice can be easily pointed out through artistic expression, and this artistic expression can in turn help us communicate our needs and wants to other people in our lives.  Erin Brumleve talks in her latest blog post about the effective way that art therapy can help blended families understand that they are not “broken”, and can help normalize the process of divorce and remarriage.

Some of us profess to not “be artistic” (yes, myself included!), and might have anxiety about the thought of creating a piece of art.  Don’t let this anxiety place obstacles in your path.  Talk with your therapist or a loved one about this anxiety — picking apart the reasons for it can be an amazing entry into underlying concerns (“My art won’t be very good and that will make me feel not good enough”, might be one anxiety).  Then think about who you are comparing it to….and why?  Art is very personal and very unique.  Our art will be like no one else’s and in that sense there is no comparison.  I have a series of mandalas that I have drawn as a way to express my own artistic self.  I learned through creating them that the symbols and colors I chose are connected to meaningful aspects of my life and as the mandalas progress I can see them aligned with a life transition I am experiencing.

The beauty of art is that it is special, boundless, and our own.  It can open many doors for healing and growth.


Facebook “friends”? The impact of social media trends on depression and self-confidence

When I googled “how many people are on Facebook?”, the question popped up in my search prompter before I could even finish writing it.  That goes to show how central this social media site and others have become in our daily lives.  The answer, in case you were wondering, is 500 million. MILLION.  And 50% of those users log into the site at least once per day.  That is 250 million people connecting talking to each other, looking at photos, reading status updates and “check-ins” every day.  With so much access to our personal lives, it is becoming increasingly more difficult to create boundaries with information (people can track you almost anywhere through social media sites) and decide how much is “too much” to open up about ourselves online.  I have written blog posts before about limiting what we say online (“when to open up and when to shut up”) and about how influential websites can be on our mental health (such as my blog about the influence of YouTube on cutting behaviors). 

Now, there is a new study conducted by the American Academy of Pediatrics and published in the April issue of Pediatrics magazine that states that social media sites like Facebook can increase teenagers’ levels of depression.  Doctors are not sure if this increase in depression is an extension of a depression that might already be experienced or if it is a new form of the mental health condition that is developed when teens obsess over online media sites.  Teenagers who might already be dealing with issues surrounding self-esteem can easily log into the website and be faced with photos, information, and status updates by peers that can “make us feel like we don’t measure up”.  To me, this is a viral extension of the popularity contests that we all enter into in middle and high school, where being popular and “cool” (and especially when it concerns dressing and looking a certain way) is of utmost importance for our happiness level.

What is most concerning to me is that the online world tends to be a place where people can say whatever they want to and (usually) avoid reprecussions that might have been enforced in the real world.  Online bullying, online websites and videos that condone behaviors that are unhealthy and demeaning, and other types of online networking can make it easier to be vicious and disrespectful to others.  This type of harrassment “in the second degree” compounded by the fact that what we see and read online is not necessarily always the reality, can strongly influence our feelings of self-esteem and self-concept.  Do you know what it feels like to be having a challenging day and then to log onto Facebook and see a steady stream of a friend’s status updates that are chipper, happy, and which can seem to make your day even worse?  How about logging into Facebook while working hard to pay your bills and you see photos of a friend’s expensive new car or trip around the world?  These types of factors can make us feel lazy, boring, and like we are not “good enough”.  Don’t even get me started on the realm of tracking old friends and partners and finding photos of them laughing with new partners or a new group of friends.  It makes me wonder about the appeal of online sites sometimes, and I ponder the obsession we 500 million users have and can’t seem to shake (myself admittedly being one of them).  To add to the chaos, many of those persuasive photos and updates might not even be true and may be a way for the poster to try to increase his or her own self-esteem by putting on a false reality to the online world.  Phew — keeping track of all of this is exhausting!  As Dr. Gwenn O’Keeffe, a Boston-area peditrician states, this type of social comparison can be “more painful than sitting alone in a crowded cafeteria at school and that Facebook creates a skewed view of what’s really going on.”

Social media sites do not just influence that self-esteem and levels of depression of only teenagers (though teenagers might have emotional states that are more easily influenced by peer interaction than other age groups).  I believe that we all have experienced some of the feelings that this study is talking about.  Whether you are a child first experiencing the seemingly limitless excitement of the online world or whether you are an adult in your 60s who is reconnecting with old friends and schoolmates that you have not heard from in many years, you might understand the issue of not knowing how to limit the impact of social media sites on our personal mental health.

While doctors do state that many factors of social networking is healthy and productive, it can “sometimes go to far and turn into a popularity and comparison contest”.  Doctors also assure that just because you are on Facebook does not mean that you will get depressed.  As research is still being conducted, we do not know the full extent of the correlation between depression and social media sites and clinicians currently believe that the concern mostly occurs with those who already have some feelings of depression and low self-esteem and whose symptoms increase through repeated use of social networking sites.  Whatever the cause or conditions, this issue is certainly of serious concern and will continue to be so as our world becomes more reliant on online communication and viral influence.

Facing your biggest fear: using Exposure Therapy to overcome anxiety and other disorders

Think about your biggest fear.  Is it swimming with sharks?  Getting germs on your hands?  Speaking in front of a large audience?  What would you think about doing that very thing over and over again?  Pretty terrifying, right?  Exposure therapy, which is a type of behavior therapy in which a client confronts a feared situation, memory, or object, has been proven to be one of the most effective types of therapy for treating Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and many types of anxiety disorders such as phobia and even eating disorders.  It works by ensuring that the most basic element of healing is present:  the trust of a solid therapeutic relationship.  Once that is in place, the therapist exposes the client to the feared object in an environment that is safe, and comforts the clients as he or she faces his or her biggest fear.  The fascinating aspect of Exposure Therapy is wrought in its very essence:  by not avoiding, you may realize that the feared object is less intimidating as presumed and it systematically loses power and control over you, your thoughts, your behaviors, and your sense of self.

As a therapist who specializes in eating disorders, I often meet clients who struggle with parallel concerns such as anxiety, OCD, phobia, and PTSD.  In an effort to enrich my therapeutic practices, I met with Denver-based behavior therapist Michael Stein, PsyD, who specializes in using Exposure Therapy to treat OCD and other anxiety-based issues.  Dr. Stein fascinated me with evidence of the efficacy of Exposure Therapy: by talking out loud about or by meeting face-to-face with that element which gives you the greatest anxiety, you can over the course of treatment completely resolve those underlying concerns and live a life based on healing and not fear.  I was curious how this is applied to eating disorder treatment and connected his philosophy to my own.  In my work, I sometimes eat meals with clients who have a fear of food or a fear of the meaning of food (that it could cause weight gain, or that it could bring up distress based on self-esteem and self concept).  As we eat together, we talk about what is coming up for the client, what feelings are surfacing and how the client chooses to address them.  This type of Exposure Therapy helps clients do the very thing that their eating disorder is persuading them not to do: to be open, honest, and accepting of the process of nourishing your body and your self.  Not surprisingly, this type of intervention sparks feelings and reactions that the client might not even be able to predict — and, interestingly, many of these reactions might have nothing to do with food at all.  Emotions may surface around the subject of acceptance in social circles at school, or how it can feel “underserving” to feed yourself in a healthy and loving manner.

Recovering from an eating disorder is challenging in numerous capacities, but recovery is primarily difficult because you cannot eliminate the very object that you fear from your life; you must learn to develop a new relationship with eating.  Exposure therapy can help us re-define our relationship with food in a way that is not based out of avoidance.  The more consistently that therapists and loved ones can sit with a client and support her or him as they eat, the safer the client will feel to let out associated emotions and to open themselves up to a healthy life.  She may realize that eating a piece of cake (which she loves but her eating disorder fears) tastes delicious, nourishes her body, and empowers her to define a path based on her own wants — not based on the expectations of others.  I found an interesting study about applying Exposure Therapy to the treatment of Anorexia and intervening with the antibiotic drug D-Cycloserine, and though the study was small, it proved very promising about these types of treatment.

Similarly, in treating Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), exposure therapy is effective at helping the client gain control of the fear and distress that is an overwhelming remnant of the trauma.  In this case, Exposure Therapy must be orchestrated very carefully so as to not re-traumatize the client.  By carefully monitoring the flood of memories and feelings, the therapist can help the client develop a new relationship with those emotions and feel confident that they can prevent fear from asserting power over them in the present moment.

Exposure Therapy can be helpful in overcoming anxiety, trauma, and other related issues and this research certainly piqued my curiosity about the depth and breadth of healing that can be found through the use of this treatment.  You don’t need a therapist to experience some of its benefits.  How have you overcome anxiety or phobia through the use of exposure?

The swelling rise of stigma attached to Binge Eating Disorder in the United States

Last week I attended a conference sponsored by the Eating Disorder Center of Denver entitled: “The Rising Complexities of Binge Eating Disorder”.  I learned a great deal about this rapidly increasing disorder, including the fact that most people show signs of the disorder in the early twenties, but it is not often diagnosed until the thirties — ten years after it has begun.  It also shows almost equally among men and women and does not present in one ethnic group than another.  And here’s a fact that you might not have known: about 50% of those with Binge Eating Disorder are NOT overweight — and being obese does not mean that you are struggling with Binge Eating Disorder.

Binge Eating Disorder (BED), also referred to as compulsive overeating, is a type of eating disorder that has been gaining more national attention lately. It is the most common eating disorder in the United States, with sources citing that 3.5% of women and 2% of men struggle with some form of BED, and that BED is associated with 30% of people seeking weight loss help. It is controversial and sparks many strong opinions amongst those of us living in Western cultures. Why? Because the increasing prevalence of this disorder is linked to the rise of obesity in the United States (however, as I mentioned earlier, having BED does not necessarily mean that you are obese and vice versa), it’s linked to availability of resources to afford healthy and nutritious food, it’s connected to feeling that we have the power to make good choices about what we eat, and it’s deeply rooted in emotional feelings such as self-esteem. Obesity, which can be a result of struggling with BED, may lead to serious health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and congenital heart failure, and even death. Those with weight issues are affected emotionally as well, feeling overly conscious about their body, fearing being judged by peers, and worrying that there is no way to control their eating.

Also termed as a “food addiction”, BED is one of the most rapidly increasing forms of an eating disorder. Challenging childhood obesity is a platform of First Lady Michelle Obama, which I feel is a very important message for us all to get out: it is possible to stop the cycle of obesity and emotional devastation at an early age with proper intervention, education, and resources. But is obesity the same as BED? I argue not, as there are millions of women and men who struggle with BED who are not obese. So how is BED classified? According to mental health professionals, BED is present when a man or woman eats large amounts of food while feeling a loss of control over their eating. It’s important to note that BED is qualified differently from bulimia nervosa, which involves a binge-purge cycle, because there is typically no purging after the binge session (though occasionally there is some form of compensation after a binge). That definitely does not mean that there are not feelings that result, uncomfortable feelings such as guilt, shame, and loneliness, which may lead to depression and isolation.

I believe that BED is a real and serious mental health condition that can have devestating consequences to our emotional and physical health. Binge Eating Disorder is going to be listed as a diagnosable eating disorder in the upcoming revision of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder, which has initiated a conversation about the validity of this condition. Some argue that it can be a “way out” for not taking care of ourselves the way we need to. As someone who works with people who struggle with eating and weight issues, I can attest that feeling out of control when eating and developing dangerous coping mechanisms such as bingeing, are afflictions that clearly connect to concepts of self-worth, identity, self-acceptance, and believing in the power to change. It is definitely possible to recovery from any type of eating disorder. The more resources and education we can promote about these deadly diseases, the less they will be stigmatized and the more open we will be to discussing how to help one another. It’s about changing the “can’t” to “can”, and offering solutions for healthy exercise, eating plans, and personal reflection that increases self esteem and hope.

A Skeleton in the Closet: A raw look at living with an eating disorder

Today I stumbled upon a powerful website/art project called “Skeleton in the Closet”.  Stumbled and fell, stubbing my toe in a way that resonates throughout my body.  You can find the stories, photos, and message of hope that the artist intends to portray here: Skeleton in the Closet.  I want to warn you that these are REAL stories, real people, and real testimonies to how eating disorders destroy lives.  I found the photographs both beautiful and devestating.  One woman writes that “she thought that if she was skinny {her father} would love her more.”  The artist, Fritz Liedtke, confesses in the introduction of his own connection to this topic:  he discovered he was struggling with anorexia and control issues in college, at a time when “people didn’t realize that men get eating disorders too.”  Fritz uses the refrain “I’ve seen thinner”, which depicts an expectation that resonates into our skin and is seen in every factor of our society: entertainment, food advertising, social acceptance at school, the beauty industry, and athletic performance.  Thinner is “better”.  That is what we are told.  And we are told that there is never “too thin”, as the models in the runway depict an “ethereal lightness and beauty” (another quote from a woman suffering from an eating disorder).  These are the messages that cause girls as young as six years old to stop eating after a few bites because they “don’t want to get fat”, and cause women to throw up everything they eat insomuch as the lining of their stomachs is eventually eroded.  Eating disorders are not glamorous.  They are deadly.  This project reinforced that in my soul and brought tears to my eyes.  It also reinforced my mission: that I will never give up hope or perseverence in the effort to eliminate eating disorders.

What reactions did you have to the Skeleton in the Closet gallery and project?

Face-blindness: living a vibrant life when you cannot recognize a face

What would it be like to live every day without being able to recognize the faces of those that you feel closest to?  How would this impact your job, relationships, self-esteem, mental health?  Ask Heather Sellers or Thomas Gruter.  Both have a condition called prosopagnosia, also called “face-blindness”, which is a disorder of face perception wherein the ability to recognize faces is impaired while the ability to recognize other objects remains intact.   Sellers has written a best-selling memoir called You Don’t Look Like Anyone I Know, in which she accounts her personal journey while living with this neurological disorder.  She speaks of “growing up, I took cues from context, voice, gait, and hair.  But I never understood exactly what was so confusing — I began to fear I must be going crazy and was anxious all the time.”  Gruter has found that he is impacted by the same disorder and now studies the causes, prevalence, and helpful therapeutic interventions for face-blindness.

Before 2005, Gruter says, face blindness disorder was thought to be only in individualized cases and was assumed to be very rare.  Now, in large part due to Gruter’s research, he estimates that 2.5% of Germany’s population are affected by some sort of face-blindness (so, several million).  And those are just the reported cases.  The inability to recognize faces or distinguish one from another can be embarrassing or socially disabling.  Many people may not know that face-blindness is the cause of their social stress or may be hiding their concerns out of fear of judgment.  Can you imagine the daily level of anxiety that you would hold if you could not be sure if you know the person walking towards you and in which capacity you know them?  Or if you come across a complete stranger and mistake them for a close family member?  I believe this would be exhausting and stressful and could strongly impact one’s self-esteem.

According to the National Institutes of Health, there are two forms of prosopagnosia: acquired and developmental or congenital face-blindness.  Up until now, doctors believed that the acquired form is more common, being caused by brain injuries or a stroke.  Those with this type of the disorder may have endured a stroke or brain injury and then noticed the drastic difference in their ability to recognize faces.  However, when there isn’t a catalyst and someone may have developmental face-blindness, they may have lived their whole lives not knowing that they could recognize faces — their blindness was their reality.  Given this interesting concept, I am curious about the question of how do you judge the level of impact of a developmental disorder?  If it is something you have lived with all of your life and have become accustomed to (such as regular blindness), how do you redefine your “normal”?  Do you want to?  I believe that you must take level of functioning into account.  If you feel that you are functioning at a high level and have a good quality of life, is a developmental disorder like face-blindness a factor that you would like to (or are able to) heal from?  I guess there’s always the tease of a higher level of functioning: being able to recognize faces would be a benefit that could improve social and career opportunities.  But if you have coped with and adjusted to the disorder, would it be more stress and anxiety to try to change it than to leave it as it is?  The more awareness we have, the more complexities we bring into our lives (as well as a greater chance of healing from pain).

As a therapist who is drawn to the relational and personal impact that disorders can have on our lives, I consider the effect that face-blindness could have on a marriage or other intimate relationship.  Frustration can arise in both partners if one partner cannot recognize his or her partner whom he or she may have been with for decades, and I wonder if this might bring up other issues such as trust between the partners and insecurity on each partner’s behalf in terms of feeling validated by the other.  Face-blindness could also impact the types of careers that someone with this disorder can succeed in, as jobs based on customer service with a small group of clients in which the need to please the clients in a personal manner could be challenging.  This condition does not have to be life-altering.  As Sellers says, she “finally learned how important it is to trust her own perceptions.”

Is there a treatment for face-blindness?  Doctors and clinicians say that they are only beginning to work on treating this disorder as more cases are brought to the surface.  We are in the stage of raising awareness about this issue in medical and mental health arenas.

The Prosopagnosia Research Center is in the process of conducting research on face-blindness and beginning to test treatments they could be effective.  Do you think you might have prosopagnosia?  Take the quiz at to see how likely you are to have this disorder.  The Center is working on putting the diagnostic test online so that people all over the world can ascertain their likelihood of having this disorder and can soon find treatment options.

Working for life or living to work? Creating boundaries between our personal and professional selves

I was all set today to write a blog about a serious topic that requires much research and thought.  It’s an important subject that I will blog about later, but I realized as I was reading articles about the topic that I couldn’t concentrate and my brain felt fuzzy.  Why?  Because, as for many of us, I was having difficulty separating what I needed to do for work and feelings I was processing in my brain which were not really related to my work.  Or were they?  I was feeling overwhelm, excitement, and anxiety about recent changes and opportunities in my professional life.  This was seeping into personal constructs that I hold about myself:  can I do all of these things that are expected of me?  Do I have the right philosophy to get the job done effectively?  Basically self-confidence stuff, which is not out of the ordinary for me.

The way that my brain was carjacking my (blog)words made me reflect on how many clients have recently been talking with me about stresses in their jobs and the way this bleeds into their personal lives.  Or, the stress of not having a job and how this affects their personal lives in multiple different ways.  It made me think about how we create boundaries between our personal and professional selves, and how we decide what keeps these boundaries in place.  For me and others in my profession, it’s a constant battle to maintain these boundaries because the very nature of our job entails being “who we are” in the room with clients but practicing self-care enough so that we leave our work at work and don’t carry those struggles into the walls of our own homes. Whew!

Whether you are a high-powered attorney, a stay-at-home mother, an out-of-work actor, or a new business owner, you can relate to the difficulty of deciding who you are — and how that identity is tied to your career (I say how and not “if” because I feel it is inevitable that we invest much of ourselves in our career, as being successful in our careers can lead to successes in other arenas of our lives).  How do you leave a stressful work situation at the office and not take it home with you, where it can bring unwarranted conflict with loved ones?  I asked a good friend of mine who is in the medical profession and is quite confident in her professional persona but struggles with feeling comfortable with her personal path.  We talked about how she has successfully learned to not take little things too seriously and to look at the positive side of outcomes rather than focusing on the few negative things (that can just seem so much easier to focus on!).  How? I ask.  Through time and experience, she says, you learn to “not sweat the small stuff” and to allow yourself to take feedback in a constructive manner.  But, I said, I would break down in tears if someone told me I was not as effective of a therapist as I could be, because this profession is my life!  That, she said, might be your problem.  When I asked her how she could go about applying the confident work philosophy into her personal life, she laughed and said “I have no idea.  That’s why we all go to therapy!”

When our careers are our lives, it is difficult to separate the two.  I feel that it can be positive to invest so much in your career because it will directly bleed into your personal life.  This approach can be successful and reap many rewards — if your career is going well.  However, many of us are feeling the tugs of the economic times and can feel quite defeated personally if we are feeling defeated professionally (even if it’s just a phase).  Being unemployed can strongly affect the confidence you feel about your roles in life and how you manage them.  Being in a job that you hate because it pays well in this difficult time or because you do not want to have to job-hunt again can bring up feelings of guilt and depression.  We are all tied to our jobs because they provide us with income and personal fulfillment (or the promise of it) that is invaluable.  The key is trying to find out how we can protect our emotional selves when our profession is subject to factors that are out of our control and how we can console ourselves to not give up.  I like to think about how each day is a new day and how spring comes every year — and with those comes the promise of a fresh start!