How to Make Any Criticism Constructive

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Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

Criticism is hard to hear, because no one wants to hear that they’re doing something wrong. But criticism can be a gift, if you know what to look for. 

We often hear about “constructive criticism,” which is meant to help us improve (that’s why it’s constructive). But even well-meaning criticism can feel bad, because it makes us believe negative things about ourselves.

How to Break the Criticism Cycle

Criticism makes us feel bad because we believe that if we were doing things right, there wouldn’t be anything to criticize. Therefore, criticism means we did poorly, and we believe it’s a sign of our failure.

Criticism does not mean failure.

Every final version of something you see has gone through the process of critique and editing. Sometimes we self-edit and critique, and sometimes we ask others to do it for us, like a proofreader, a workshop group, or sending it to a friend and asking for their thoughts. Sometimes we receive criticism we didn’t ask for, and when criticism comes as a surprise we often feel defensive and hurt.

Each time we receive criticism, whether it’s asked for or not, we have an opportunity to learn from it and turn it into something constructive and helpful.

Taking Constructive Criticism

When faced with a criticism, get curious instead of defensive. Ask yourself some questions about it, like: 

  1. Is this criticism true?
  2. Is this criticism something I need to change to improve myself or my work?
  3. Can I use this experience to learn something?

Is it true?

Sometimes people will criticize you and it’s something you should change to be a better version of yourself. But other times, criticism may not actually be relevant. 

When criticism hits us hardest, it’s usually because we already believe a negative thought about ourselves about a similar thing. If I feel like someone is criticizing my writing, it hurts more if I already believe I’m not a good enough writer and they’re echoing that negative belief.

But ask yourself, really deeply ask, if the criticism is true.

And also ask if your interpretation of the criticism is true.

They said I’m a bad parent. Did they say that? Or did they point out to you that your car seat wasn’t installed properly? Is your car seat installed properly?

They said I’m not qualified as an expert on the subject I talk about. Did they say that? Or did they make a broad statement about your field that you took personally? Are you qualified?

They said I’m not good at my job. Did they say that? Or did you get feedback in a review on areas that need improvement? Do you need to improve those areas of your performance?

But if it’s criticism that can help you improve, here’s how to sift out the constructive bits.

Is this something I need to change?

Once you determine if something is true or not, the next step is deciding if it’s something you need to change.

They said my carseat wasn’t installed properly. If this is true, do you need to change it? Absolutely, yes. It’s a safety concern. Go fix your carseat.

They said I’m not qualified. Is this true? Make a list of the reasons you’re qualified to do your work and if you actually are qualified, move along and get back to work. If you determine that you really aren’t qualified for something, then make a plan to get what you need in order to feel confident in your qualifications.

I got a negative review at work. Is the criticism of your work performance true? If so, make a plan with your supervisor to check in on your improvements over the next several months so your next review is outstanding.

Can I learn something?

Whether or not a criticism is true, can you learn from the experience?

They said my carseat wasn’t installed properly. In this example, you learned about proper carseat installation. This is great information to have for the safety of your kids.

They said I’m not qualified. In this situation, you learned about all the things that do qualify you and add evidence to your list of reasons to feel confident when you’re facing imposter syndrome. In your research of additional qualifications, you might have also learned some easy ways to up your credentials to feel even more confident.

I got a negative review at work. In this example, it’s a great time to commit to learning new things at work to take your performance to the next level in your career. The things you improve and learn will be great for your resume too.

Being Vulnerable to Criticism

Criticism feels so uncomfortable because it makes us feel vulnerable. Putting yourself out there into the world as a writer or artist can feel extra vulnerable and intimidating simply because it means people will critique our work.

Someone left a comment on a review of my book that I’m capitalizing on millennials’ insecurities. 

This commenter is criticizing me – but is a book that targets millennials’ insecurities something I need to change? Actually, no. Because my book helps people overcome those insecurities. 

This criticism gave me some clarity. I do hope to attract millennials with insecurities to my book. Because my book is here to help them. 

However, I also received criticism that I didn’t push far enough on certain topics in my book, and this is relevant criticism that I would change next time. I was too timid and didn’t want to make waves with divisive opinions. I value this criticism and will address it in my next book, or a later version of Gaslighting. 

Is There Non-Constructive Criticism?

Absolutely. Sometimes, people’s criticism truly is just bullshit that’s about them.

People who criticize you for not being part of their religion, not living up to their standards or expectations, or not trusting you to make your own choices are people who are criticizing you to control you.

This is not constructive criticism, this is a boundary violation and manipulation tactic. You’re free to simply ignore them and take distance from people who criticize to hurt you.

PS. You can buy my book here!

 

Stop Hustling: Pacing Yourself is Part of the Plan

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Photo by Adi Goldstein on Unsplash

“You’re trying to do it all,” my coach said — gently accusing me of taking on more than I could handle without burning out.

I had just gotten back from a business trip to test a workshop concept and told my coach I’d have it turned into an online course by the end of the month.

And when I told her the rest of the things on my list to accomplish, including book proposals, keeping up on my social media schedule, taking individual coaching clients, and starting an email list, she said, “You’re trying to do it all.”

“No,” I assured her. “I’m not trying to do it all. It all works together. Everything I do supports my brand as an author, and it’s all related. It’s all one thing!”

Okay, she caught me. I was trying to do it all.

I had spent a solid two months developing the workshop into its current state by working on it — and only it — for weeks, while my ideas for other projects got put into a list for later.

My focus got me this far, and I didn’t want to lose momentum.

Since I wanted to start 2020 off organized and with a solid calendar of social media and blog content, it stood to reason that I could not turn my workshop into a six week course at the same time I was writing a book proposal, learning how to make an email list, and regularly posting on my social accounts.

I needed to give the course a little room to breathe while I created the channels I will use to give it life when it’s ready.

Curiously, I wondered what had been making me think I needed to launch myself into the next huge step instead of making a plan that made sense.

Why was I still hustling?

The answer came to me as I was in the middle of a conversation with someone about something my mother did to me as a kid.

After my sixteenth birthday, I decided I wanted to learn to play guitar. A friend’s mom had an old acoustic one sitting around in a garage and she gave it to me.

I named my guitar Lorelai, and she stayed in my room looking very cool. Sometimes I’d take her out of her black case with its shiny silver buckles and I would strum and try to play a chord or two.

But I didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t have a plan.

One day, I received a phone call from my sister.

“Mom’s having a yard sale and she’s selling your guitar.”

I exploded over the phone in livid, shrieking tones at my mother that she had no right to sell my guitar!

She replied coolly and calmly, “Well, you haven’t learned to play it. If you tell me when you’re going to learn to play it you can keep it.”

I felt trapped. I didn’t have a plan.

I could not give her an answer I knew would be true and wouldn’t get my guitar scrapped upon the deadline if I hadn’t kept up my end of the bargain.

She offered an alternative: I could keep it, but she wanted to nail it to her living room wall as decor.

I let her sell my guitar.

The false promise of hustle and perfection

That need to figure out a new hobby right away, to be the best at something immediately, to only bring something into my life if I have a plan for it is directly related to the way my mother treated my hobbies.

I had to earn the right to have an idea by hustling to put it into motion.

But now that I know where this belief comes from, I can take away the power it holds over me.

My approach to undoing mental obstacles is similar to trauma therapy. Find the root of the negative thought (in this case, mom sold my guitar because I didn’t learn it right away = I must constantly be working toward a goal as fast as I can), and then process it.

What would the ideal situation have been with my guitar?

  • I would have been allowed to keep it as long as I needed until I either decided to make a plan to learn or I decided to let it go. That decision should never have been forced.
  • If I had decided to stop learning guitar, that decision should have been accepted and not attached to shame for not trying hard enough, or assumed that I never wanted it in the first place. People can change their minds.
  • I would have had opportunities to learn from people who could teach me in a way that made sense. I was limiting myself to self-teaching, when I could have asked for lessons or help. I didn’t have to learn something new in a vacuum.
  • My mom would have supported that I was interested in a new creative hobby and encouraged me to learn at my own pace. I should not have had to justify my desire or my timeline.

Chasing immediate perfection is never the answer, because we all deserve the time it takes to evaluate if a new idea fits into our life and our plan for growth.

I can’t imagine telling anyone, especially a child, “You have to learn this immediately or I’m getting rid of it.”

The pressure of that edict was enormous, unfair, and harmful.

It has kept me in a pattern of thinking I needed to always be jumping to the next thing in my life in order to achieve goals at breakneck speed and learn new skills as quickly as possible. I need to execute things perfectly, and quickly, in order to not lose the thing I’m working on.

I have to succeed before it’s taken away and I lose the chance forever.

Replacing the negative pattern

It’s not enough to simply find and understand the root cause of a negative belief.
You have to pull an Indiana Jones and swap that thought for a positive one that you can believe is just as real.
Here are some thoughts I can try out to see if they feel just as real and believable as the thought that I need to go fast or I’ll lose my chance.
  • I have plenty of time to get this new skill right.
  • It’s okay to take my time on this project.
  • This project is part of my plan and I don’t need to rush it.
  • I am in charge of how long it takes to learn something new, and I can take as long as I need.

Those beliefs feel so much more loving and supportive.

It might take a little time and practice, and I will need to repeat these new beliefs a lot while I swap them out for the old one.

But that’s okay.

I can take as long as I need to learn something new.

PS. I’m teaching people how to stand up for their boundaries after traumatic pasts in my six week course that starts Monday. Email me to reserve a spot at 50% off list price.

What You Need to Know About Weight Gain During Social Distancing

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Photo by sheri silver on Unsplash

Now is not the time to freak out about your diet. 

Honestly, NO time is the time to freak out about your diet, for most people. 

You might gain weight during social isolation because we’re all stressed out and impulse buying cherries and pie crust (just me? I stress bake). Gaining weight is fine. You will fluctuate to your normal set point after the stressful period. 

Gaining weight is okay.

Stress or comfort eating is okay.

Snacking “mindlessly” is okay.

It’s all okay — this is an unprecedented time, and sometimes the convenience of a frozen dinner you can throw in the oven on Friday after a timey-wimey work from home week is worth the sanity.

We have to take more time between grocery trips, and we can’t go out mid-week to top up on fresh produce. So that means canned food, frozen food, shelf-stable food.

We have to stay fed, but we don’t have to stay low-carb, counting macros, and sticking to a diet when the global stress level is off the charts.

Yes, do what you can to eat a balanced diet and include fruits and vegetables along with whole grains, and the whole healthy eating nine yards. But you have permission to not be on a diet right now (and forever after this is over).

Exercise During Social Distancing

Can’t get to the gym? You’re also not obligated to keep up a strict exercise regimen right now, especially if you’ve been ill or might become ill. The best thing you can do right now is be as healthy – and rested – as possible. 

Take this time to rest your body.

Embrace joyful movement. Do exercise that makes sense and makes you feel good. This could include taking a walk around the block or a short bike ride if you can go outside. You can do some gentle stretches or yoga. Lift weights or do home calisthenics if these are part of your regular routine and you want to continue them. 

But it’s okay if you just rest and recover right now without an exercise regimen. 

Diet Culture Resources

I highly recommend these amazing books to help you break the diet cycle so you don’t hate yourself for quarantine snacks — they might change your life for long after this social distancing period is over! 

The Fuck It Diet by Caroline Dooner

Health At Every Size by Lindo Bacon 

PS. I overcame my eating disorder with the help of the books above, and now I help others overcome boundaries and traumatic triggers in a six week class that reframes the usual negative spiral in your head. Email me to get on the roster for 50% off!

Why Can’t We Stay The F*ck Home? Why We Need Social Distancing

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Photo by Erik Mclean on Unsplash

We all know someone who is struggling with social distancing. Someone who is going from store to store, sort of understanding the risk but unable to help themselves and just sit down.

It’s annoying, it’s frustrating, it’s even understandable. Staying at home when you want to is one thing, but being made to do it makes you feel stressed and, well, isolated.

But let’s be totally clear: it’s dangerous.

What is Social Distancing?

Social distancing, or physical distancing, is the practice of maintaining a physical distance to prevent the spread of contagious disease. It’s not the same as quarantine, which is a complete lack of contact with the outside world, but people are using the terms somewhat interchangeably. 

Basically, stay in your home as much as possible, and when you leave your home, stay a minimum of six feet away from people. At the grocery store. On a walk. Wherever you go, there should be a six foot radius around you.

Social distancing in practice is a set of individual behaviors. For some, it means not leaving their house at all. For others, it means only going to work.

But some seem to think it means to carry on like normal but use hand sanitizer. 

Social distancing is how we buy time.

Time for our hospitals to treat those currently sick before more get sick. Time for the science to catch up. Time for better treatments to be found. Social distancing is the only thing that can buy us that time.

Social Distancing Makes a Difference

At CV-19’s minimum case fatality rate (CFR), 3.8% of cases will die.

Some people are on board with the idea that these people are going to die anyway, so why not just “save the economy” and stop social distancing?

Besides the obvious moral and ethical issues with sacrificing human lives for the good of the economy (I’m judging you), there are two scientific reasons.

1) Those people may not die if we can flatten the curve to allow time for more consistent treatments and preventive measures to be developed 

2) The CFR can increase 

Flatten the Curve

Every person has about 300 people in their network. At 3.8%, that’s about 11.4 people you know who will die if CV-19 continues to spread widely without any controlling measures. 

Eleven people in your life that some would say are an acceptable cost for the sake of the economy.

As hospitals fill up and ventilators are in short supply for breathing complications, the best thing we can do is make sure the virus spreads as slowly as possible and keep our vulnerable populations as protected as possible.

We can limit how fast it spreads with social distancing measures to buy those people that time. 

COVID-19 Fatalities By the Numbers

Number two tells us about maximum fatalities. Minimum case fatality rate has a maximum counterpart. Approximately 18-22% of confirmed cases have needed hospitalization. Globally, the rate is 20.2%, so that’s roughly the maximum CFR.

Ideally, we never determine the max CFR by experience, only by calculation. 

CFR? Percentages? It’s all technical language and calculation driven math. 

Remember those 11.4 people you know that some are okay with sacrificing to lift the economically impacting measures? If we lift the measures and overwhelm our hospital systems, that number jumps to 60.6 people you know that could die.

The minimum of 3.8% is IDEAL, meaning everyone has access to medical care. The maximum of 20.2% is what happens when our hospitals are overrun.

Right now, we’re trending up. 4.01% a few days ago, then 4.31%. 4.64%. 4.72% as of March 29.

That means among those you know, that 11.4 is already 12.6. 

The Psychology of Capitalism

We have trouble staying home because we feel like “staying home” means being useless and not contributing. The political blustering about the economy’s trouble due to social distancing hits this home.

We’re taught from a young age that our value lies in how much value we add to society. 

Productivity means we are valuable. We contribute. We have a real job. 

Anyone who can’t participate at the average level of productivity is shamed and made to feel guilty and less-than. Disabled people. Underemployed people. People who work minimum wage jobs – which, I may point out, are now being highlighted as the essential roles that are keeping our society running at all.

In times of stress and crisis, we feel helpless we want to feel helpful. We want to do something so we’re not just sitting at home feeling useless. 

Because productivity is intrinsically associated with our personal worth in a capitalist society. We can’t just sit at home when there are productive things to be done. Like grocery shopping, for example.

In times of stress and crisis (say, a global pandemic), once a few people start to panic and stock up a surplus of goods, it cascades and causes more and more people to hoard and compete for resources.

Those who can stock up are immensely privileged if they can afford to buy weeks’ worth of food at a time. Parents on WIC assistance can’t get the food they need when people have cleaned out the shelves in a blind panic. People who need to wait until their SNAP benefits renew so they can get their usual groceries may also face empty shelves due to the people with liquid cash coming through to fill their bunker with canned peaches.

It’s biological. The stress of an oncoming crisis, and the uncertainty that comes with it, increases cortisol production which causes an impulse to hoard resources. Prehistorically speaking, stress means you’re going to run out of food, so you have to go get the food before anyone else can.

But we’re in 2020, and despite the global pandemic going on, we need to remember that the stores are staying open and we will not run out of food.

We need less “every man for himself” and more community support and resource sharing. Even if that sharing just means leaving groceries for your neighbors.

Capitalism encourages competition over cooperation. We can consciously choose otherwise.

How to Social Distance Like a Pro

  • Cancel gatherings, outings, and social situations
  • Visit virtually, play games online, and meet your social needs as much as possible to reduce feeling isolated
  • Restrict grocery shopping to one time per week or less.
    • When shopping:
      • Shop via pickup or delivery, if possible
      • Take a list
      • Be flexible and prepared to make substitutions – you don’t need a specific brand of toilet paper or to go to 5 stores looking for it
      • Maintain 6 feet of distance from others
      • Avoid touching your face (you can wear a cloth mask to help re-train yourself away from frequent face touching – be sure to wash it frequently)
      • Be patient and give people space 
      • Avoid going to multiple stores (one store is enough exposure, get what you need and go home in one trip)
      • Bring along disinfecting wipes for your cart
      • Wash your hands thoroughly when you get home for 20 seconds with soap and water
      • Disinfect your phone and phone case when you get home, because you probably touched it a lot without realizing
  • Only go into public for groceries, necessary medical care.
  • Focus on mental health before productivity
    • Use telehealth appointments with your therapist
    • Free therapy is available at 7cups.com
    • Practice basic self-care like making sure you drink water, shower/wash your hair regularly, try to get some fresh air outside or open the windows, and eat regularly 
  • Don’t freak out about stress/comfort eating or snacking
  • Realize risk of infection increases exponentially each day, as cases increase, so if you’re going to need it, it’s better to get it today than tomorrow (prescriptions, food)
  • Tip your delivery drivers like your life depends on them

Choose Community 

Social distancing is hard because many of us are feeling isolated, helpless, and afraid right now. But it works, and it’s necessary.

Social distancing works, but only if you act based on the idea that YOU are infectious. Assume you are. Act accordingly. Keep those numbers down and help flatten the curve.

If you need to be productive, you can by helping others not feel isolated, not by running around. If you want to be productive right now, do something helpful from your home. 

  • Donate to charities helping support front-line healthcare workers
  • Share news stories about worker strikes for hazard pay and benefits
  • Create art and share it with others
  • Lead an online class in something you’re an expert on (people are learning all kinds of things right now)
  • Check in with friends to give them someone to talk to
  • Add joy to the world however you can

Data for this article was provided by Ash Roulston.

Tiny Ways My Life Has Changed During COVID-19 Isolation

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Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

Obviously, big things are happening right now. We’re in the midst of a global health crisis. People are scared.

Lives have changed in big ways, but they’ve also changed in small ways. Sometimes the small things feel weirder than the big things.

I’m now in my third week of working from home full time.

I wash my hands a lot. I disinfect my phone a lot. I always knew phones were gross, but now a gross phone is a scary phone.

I’m going to the grocery store about once a week, but I think I stocked up enough to go two weeks this time. I keep having an urge to bake, and I needed to get ingredients. I continue eating the meal groceries I bought two and a half weeks ago, because that was practical Caitlin shopping. This is stress baking Caitlin, who is also learning to do cool eyeshadow and make cocktails.

It’s my birthday in two weeks. I was planning a party at my favorite local bar. My birthday has been postponed until further notice. I Venmo someone on the staff a $10 tip every time I get drunk in my house.

My sister is a teacher and school is out for the next month. She’s video chatting students to check in.

I’m still estranged from my parents, even though my dad reached out to “see if I was okay.” I had to evaluate if my boundaries still made sense in the face of a global health crisis. I decided they were. The boundary didn’t change, but the guilt feels a little worse.

I finally, after six months on a wait list, got to download Brene Brown’s “Daring Greatly” on the Libby app.

I haven’t had a commute in two weeks and won’t for at least four more. I try to make time to sit at my kitchen table and listen to Brene for about twenty minutes before the need to stand up and do something else consumes me.

I am so used to being in the car to start and end my day.

I woke up on the first Saturday at 10:17am and was sure I was late for work. It’s hard to know what day it is. My coworker called in for our Thursday conference call on Wednesday.

My friend had to order yoga pants and tee shirts from Target because she didn’t own non-work clothes.

I hired an employee at work. I will onboard and train her remotely.

I shaved off the back of my hair because when it gets too long and shaggy that’s my cue to go to the salon.

My eating disorder (I call it Carl) has gotten really weird about worrying that I will run out of food, so sometimes I am hungry for a while before I remember I am allowed to eat and there is plenty of food and I will not go hungry if I eat two servings of something. I am not rationing. Did I mention the pie?

I celebrated one month of dating my boyfriend via text. I write him letters and mail him watercolor paintings (I managed to keep them a surprise!), and we do video calls to see each other’s face. It’s a lesson in realizing I bring value to a relationship even when I am not physically with my partner to do things for them. That is comforting.

I miss sex.

It feels like my roommate and I have spent more time in the same place over the past two weeks than we did in the previous two months.

Dining room chairs are not ergonomic.

I tip generously – at least 25%.

I spend more time with my coworkers hanging out on Skype after work hours than we ever used to spend together when we worked in the office. I feel more like friends with them than I ever have.

I’m not using this time to become the most productive, self-improved version of myself just because there’s nothing else to do.

This is trauma. It’s big trauma, and I think it will affect us for the rest of our lives.

Some days I am productive. Some days I am not. Both of these are okay.

You can just survive right now. You can notice the tiny little ways this has changed your life.

You can be frustrated that you finally got off the Libby wait list and inexplicably have no commute anymore. (I really want to finish this book).

In what little ways has your life changed?

PS. If you’re looking for reading material, my book is available for Kindle and Audible, even if you don’t have a commute.

 

 

 

 

Why you need to go to therapy, and why you probably can’t

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In theory, every single person would benefit from regular therapy. Just like you get an annual physical to check your blood work for issues you can’t see, like cholesterol, blood sugar, inflammation, and more, a regular check-in with a therapist can help you maintain healthy levels of psychological self care.

When I meet with my psychiatrist, she goes through a depression and anxiety inventory and scores it. From the time I went on medication in December 2017 to my checkup in February 2019 (and quarterly follow-ups between), my scores consistently dropped. It was a quantitative way to check in and realize I was making strides in my mental health that could not have been noticed by just considering if I was feeling “less depressed.”

We developed a plan to wean off meds, and I’ve been off them entirely since May 2019 (the same month my book launched and I broke up with a boyfriend of over a year — it was a great time to go off meds! Sarcasm!) The moral of the meds story is that once I was out of an abusive marriage and actively working through my trauma in therapy, I was managing my mental health without the use of medication. If it turned out that I still needed it, I would have gone back on.

However, even if you don’t see a psychiatrist for a diagnosed mental illness like depression, anxiety, bipolar, borderline, OCD, C-PTSD, etc., and even if you don’t take meds, mental health care helps everyone.

You would benefit from therapy

Yeah, you. Whoever you are and whatever you’ve been through, even if you think you’re fine.

We live in an extremely stressful society that is not set up for our well-being. We are over-worked, minimum wage doesn’t cover rent prices anywhere in the U.S., we’re drowning in student loans, and we have concentration camps. That’s just one country. Globally, there’s genocide and rampant homophobia/transphobia and the Amazon is burning and the ice caps are melting.

Watch the news for five minutes and you could benefit from a therapist.

Some of my readers who attend (or have attended) therapy said:

  • “My health insurance is good about covering therapy and visits to a CNP who can prescribe medication. I absolutely needed therapy almost three years ago and it’s led to me rising high above much of my depression and anxiety, and to just see more of my own worth. All of it was hard. Making appointments. Going to appointments. Having my therapist tell me things that were hard to hear. I don’t regret any of it.”
  • “For an hour I slow down. It isn’t deadlines and juggling, it’s take time, process, feel, reflect. As a single mom, there’s very little time for that. It’s always putting out fires and juggling other people’s needs. My therapy is my one self indulgence, the one thing I completely do for me. It’s like the bare minimum of self care and it still feel selfish for it when I’m doing the schedule shuffling to make our weeks work.”
  • “I have been going to therapy for three years now and it’s the most incredible thing I’ve ever done for myself. I went from being on 7 different medications and still unable to function as a human with C-PTSD and DID and now I take one medication and have a full time job with normal to low anxiety.”
  • “It’s been amazing for me and helped me leave my emotionally/psychologically abusive marriage, start healing the trauma from that and from my childhood, improve lots of areas of myself that also have helped improve my parenting. I recommend it to others every chance I get.”
  • “I go to therapy to find myself again. After so much abuse I’ve gone through I’ve lost the real me. My therapist has helped me so much. I’m so very grateful for him and would recommend therapy to everyone.”
  • “I used to go to therapy. It helped me process some stuff that I desperately needed to work through, like realizing just how abusive my parents truly were. I’m tempted to go again because I’m barely functioning again, but I worry they won’t help, just use me as a lab rat to satisfy their curiosity.”
  • “My therapist is always calling me out, and, don’t tell her, but I like it.”
  • “Finding the right therapist is key and worth being patient.”
  • “Without therapy I would never have identified I was being abused.”
  • “I have been to multiple therapists in the past. The only one I’d say had a real impact was my PTSD specialist (EMDR therapy). The others… by and large, I usually left sessions feeling more confused than I did when I went in.”
  • “I have been in and out of therapy since I was 5. I go because while I have figured out how to process and unpack my trauma on my own, I currently and desperately need to undo some learned behaviors and deal with my most recent bout of abuse and deal with my PTSD. It helps to have a space space to break down or soundboard once a week. I personally think everyone can benefit from therapy. EVERYONE.”

The key is that everyone would benefit from a therapist with absolutely no biases that preclude proper supportive care, and that’s not always possible.

When you can’t go to therapy

There is a huge problem with access to therapy. Many people are without insurance, transportation, or income to be able to access a therapist. More, it can be difficult and daunting to find an inclusive therapist who is open and accepting of all gender identities, sexualities, relationship styles, ability levels, etc. or who is informed in a specific need if you have one. As a result, marginalized people face even more hardship because they cannot even access the services and tools to help them cope.

I asked readers to chime in if they go to therapy or not and why. Here are some of the negative responses:

  • “I’ve been told by basically everyone I’m close to that I need to go to therapy, and I want to, but I can’t afford it and I’ll never be able to at this rate.”
  • “Every therapist seemed wholly overwhelmed and some cried”
  • “Not anymore. They spend more time studying me than helping me. ‘Oh you’re nonbinary, I have a lot of questions.’ While some of them never mention ‘the autism’ some brought it up to congratulate me for being so functional. And some were really helpful – that’s the bitter pill.”
  • “No insurance, so no. Probably not once we have insurance, because nothing I can find that we can afford covers it. When I did, I found it largely unhelpful due to the profession being dominated by people who don’t think people with breasts can possibly know their own mind. Never mind trauma-informed, educated on chronic illness, accepting of autism self-diagnosis, etc. When I’m having to educate my therapist constantly, it doesn’t make for a good relationship.”
  • “Even if I had insurance, it would be near impossible to find a non-racist, trans inclusive, queer positive, non Christian therapist with a good praxis on ableism here. When I have had therapy it was not helpful because the therapist could not understand my life experience and was not comprehending of the support I needed, which resulted in me being gaslit and given harmful advice that increased my abuser’s control over me.”
  • “I have insurance but I have phone anxiety and anxiety about not knowing how to set up appointments. I also have some trauma related to bad counseling I’ve had. That’s not getting into being a neurodivergent creative weirdo and also accidentally stunning them with my trauma. It honestly feels like having to translate a deeply personal internal language with other people outside myself for every basic communication.”
  • “No. Because the stigma means that if anyone knew, they would think less of me. Like there’s something wrong with me.”

Others who are able to go to therapy can only do so because of special access programs.

  • “The only way I can afford to go is because I signed up with Open Path. I go because I finally realized last year that I needed to talk to a professional about my past traumas and talk about my depression and anxiety issues that stemmed from them. My therapist has helped me totally reframe the way I think about my past and change the way I talk about it. It’s gonna be a long process, but I feel more optimistic now than I ever have before.
  • “The only reason I’m able to is because of a local organization of therapists who volunteer their time for the uninsured. I chose to go when I was having daily suicidal thoughts, but I should have been going for the last 20 years. I’ve been going for 8 months now and so far it’s been extremely helpful just to be able to talk without fear of judgment and without feedback or bias. The entire experience has been extremely validating and I think absolutely every person on this planet should see a therapist regularly.”

This system is letting people down

People don’t have access to safe, inclusive, reliable, affordable mental health care — and that means that people are not safe. We are letting down trans people, domestic violence survivors, veterans, and everyone else including people who just need a safe space to unload their mental burdens. We are mainlining stress and gating the resources to manage it in a healthy way.

In a new study published in 2018, researchers found that “mental health services in the US are insufficient despite more than half of Americans seeking help. Limited options and long waits are the norm, but some bright spots with 76% of Americans now seeing mental health as important as physical health.”

Barriers cited in this study include:

  • High cost and insufficient insurance coverage
  • Limited options and long waits
  • Lack of awareness (not knowing where to go for service)
  • Social stigma

We’ve created a world that is too stressful to bear, limited the access to mental health care, and stigmatized those who seek or use it. Not to mention we raise boys to avoid emotional expression, thereby ensuring a huge chunk of each generation doesn’t even know how to express that they’re feeling stressed or angry or hurt without violence, lest they be seen as weak.

We need to do better.

Read more from me!

If you enjoyed this post (enjoy is a strong word, it was kind of a downer), you might also like my book, The Gaslighting of the Millennial Generation. I’d love for you to let me know what you think of the book, so please give it a read and leave a five star review on Amazon. If you’re morally opposed to Amazon, I have some other links here.

You can also follow me on Medium and clap for this story to support me for the low low cost of your Medium membership.

I’ve also just set up a Patreon page which will get sneak peeks of upcoming topics, an opportunity for you to suggest topics, and additional Patron-only bonus content. Check it out, Patron levels start at just $1 per month to help support my writing.

 

 

 

Get out of your own way and do something

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I’ve had a lot going on lately.

You know.

I left an abusive marriage, wrote a book, fell in love, moved in with him, broke up, settled back in Cleveland. The usual.

My office is still packed up in boxes, waiting for a wellspring of motivation to encourage me to put things on shelves and hang art and find a hot pink desk chair so I can have a place to write that isn’t propped against my bedroom wall in bed in my pajamas.

I’ve been writing, sporadically. I’ve been posting, occasionally. I’ve been working, a lot. Just not on this. Not on the things that set me on fire, make my heart pound, and make me pause for a break to say “Yes! This! Exactly!”

I love blogging. I love talking to you over this vast internet of so much happening in the world. I love the few minutes we share as you read what I have to say after I’ve had such a great time writing it.

And yet, the ideas tumble around in my brain like a pair of tennis shoes in the dryer.

Do a podcast. Teach a course. Write on a more consistent schedule. Work on your next book. Do more social media. Book speaking engagements. Do a book tour.

And I know I want to do all of these things, but it’s so hard to get started when everything is a great idea. That’s the trouble: I want to do it all, and I want to do it all well.

I get in my own way because perfectionism tells me I shouldn’t do anything if I can’t do it right.

And I am really not that great at Twitter.

So rather than figure out Twitter, I just don’t post anything on my social media. I am social media crickets right now, and I have a book out I need to be promoting and I have things I need to be saying for people who need to hear from me.

In the middle of last week, all these tennis shoulds bouncing around in my brain dryer, a post came across my Facebook feed that said:

That thing you’ve been indecisive about? The one (or 20!) things lingering in the back of your mind, taking up mental space, keeping you unconsciously stressed – what if you just decided NOW?

What if you decided and then implemented that decision? Right now. Today.

I was 100% called out by my friend Melanie, who is a professional coach. She’s amazing, and we met through some beautiful serendipity in 2015. She and I have worked together on and off through her various courses and opportunities to chat one on one about something I was working on.

I commented on the post:  I want to start a Patreon but I am not sure what levels and what rewards. I took tomorrow off as a mental health day. Perhaps I can launch a Patreon.

I’d had Patreon on my to-do list since at least 2017, so I’d been sitting on it for two years and never took action. I was paralyzed by the questions that prevented perfection: What do I have to offer that people would pay for? What if nobody signed up? What if?

I came back a few hours later with a Patreon link. I just made the damn thing. And I had two supporters within an hour.

I kicked imposter syndrome out of the way for two seconds and got something done.

I set up a Patreon page. 

And then I did something batshit amazing.

Today, I opened one of Melanie’s emails and saw a link to get on her calendar for a free one hour “clarity call” that promised to help me make a plan to get things moving. I just needed some guidance on what step to take next.

I scrolled through the week looking for a convenient time, and then realized I was putting it off for no reason. I booked a call tonight at 6:45pm. We talked until a little past 8:00 and I made the decision to book her for professional coaching for six months.

I am extremely privileged to be able to adjust my budget for professional coaching.

I completely acknowledge that not everyone can just rearrange their finances to prioritize paying a pro coach for a few months. It’s a huge deal, even to me. But the one simple action I took was setting up that Patreon page.

As soon as it was published, I felt great. Relieved. I can always tweak it later, it does not need to be absolutely 100% perfect at the time of launch. In fact, it never will be.

That feeling of elation carried over into the next day. I wrote some content for my Patreon page to give a preview of the patron exclusive content. I had a great weekend. I took a self care day Sunday and wrote all day. And that brings us to Monday, the day I signed up for a free call and decided to take the next right step — for me.

I took the next right step for me.

Me. This is what I need to hold myself accountable and advance my goals to their next level.

Because I know I will fall right back into the habit of being paralyzed by too many great ideas. And I also know that this notebook I used tonight to take notes during my call with Melanie is full of OLD notes that say “Get Melanie an outline by the end of the week” which I probably never did, since I never finished that project.

I had to take it to the next level.

What can you take to the next level?

Whether it’s your self care game, picking up one more client for your business, paying a bill you’ve been forgetting about, or asking for a raise at work, I want you to get out of your own way and just do ONE THING that’s been in the back of your mind bothering you for ages.

Tell me what it is in the comments. You can get it done!


Read more from me

If you dig my brand of encouragement, you might like my Patreon page, where supporters receive a weekly pep talk post! You can sign up at varying levels for different content access, starting at just $1 per month.

You can also support my work by purchasing my book, The Gaslighting of the Millennial Generation. I’d love for you to let me know what you think of the book, so please give it a read and leave a five star review on Amazon. If you’re morally opposed to Amazon, I have some other links here.

Emotional exhaustion is as real as physical exhaustion

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Photo by Abbie Bernet on Unsplash

This week is full of anniversaries for me.

In 2012, my first divorce was finalized on March 19.

In 2018, I began the process of leaving my second marriage on March 17.

In 2018, my stepdad died just after 1:00am on March 22 and it was the first time I had seen or spoken to my mother in fourteen months.

In 2018, I last saw my mom on March 24.

In 2018, my ex-husband berated and harassed me via text message, Facebook messenger, and phone calls on March 20, March 26, and March 27.

In 2018, the last time I pet the five cats I left behind was March 27.

In 2018, I packed and moved all of my belongings in a matter of days, moving into a new apartment on my own on March 27.

At some point around this timeline last year, I also saw my dad for the last time in person. He came to visit me after I moved out but wanted me to explain the ways I was abused before he would believe me. I had no patience for this and stopped returning his calls.

I think my body remembers all this trauma, sadness, and honestly hard ass work.

I have been nothing short of exhausted all week. I even emailed my boss that I’d have to work in the evening on Tuesday so that I could take a nap during my normal work hours. (Props to me for not forcing myself to work when I seriously had no spoons).

When I say all this to my friends and ask why I am so tired, they remind me that emotional exhaustion is as hard on the body as physical exhaustion.

I’ve been focusing on rest for the past month and a half. I try to get nine hours of sleep each night. I take baths almost daily to relax my muscles so my legs don’t hurt. I eat what I crave and no longer restrict myself, which has really opened up a lot of space in my brain that used to be filled with arbitrary rules and self-loathing.

It’s all happening at once, so fast, and I am tired.

I am, without a doubt, healthier and happier than I was a year ago. But I was also running on fumes, and my body remembers. I wasn’t taking the time to process any of my emotions then, because I needed to haul ass and survive. And I have done more than survive.

I have been unapologetically running my mouth about my abuse, my experiences, my loss, and my grief. For a year. They are mine, they belong to me, and if the people who mistreated me are upset about their portrayal in my story, they should have thought of that before they hurt me. I own everything that happened to me, and it is my right to share it.

So I share it.

Another driving force behind my continued storytelling about abuse and the self love that grew from my own personal forest fire is the fact that countless people have let me know that my story has helped them realize they were in toxic relationships too. They have left abusers, they have done the impossible.

The more we talk about it, the more we help others see that they can do it too.

But damn, I am tired.

 

Simple Ways to Create Calm in Your Workspace

Hey friends! This week’s post is a guest blog from Johanna Cider of Musings of Johanna

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Image Source: Pexels

Is your workspace causing you stress? Your physical environment at work can affect your mood, focus and productivity. If your workspace is elevating your stress levels, it’s important to make some changes.

Taking time to create calm in your work environment will have numerous benefits. Ultimately, you’ll feel happier, more relaxed and motivated to get tasks done. Here are a few simple ways to promote calm in your workspace.

Bring in Nature

Exposure to nature has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety. Most of us spend so much time inside the office that we don’t get enough time in nature. But that doesn’t mean you can’t bring nature indoors. Consider adding a couple of potted plants to your workspace. This will create a calming environment, improve the air quality and liven up the look of your space.

Declutter

Is your desk area surrounded by clutter? Keeping organised is the best way to promote calm and order at work. Taking some time to de-clutter will make a huge difference to your daily productivity. Go through all your documents, papers and items, storing away what you don’t need. Create an efficient system so that you know where everything is kept. Get rid of anything that could be a distraction during your day-to-day work tasks. Prioritise tidying your desk regularly. A clear, organised workspace will result in a clearer mind.

Invest in a Comfortable Office Chair

When you spend all day sitting at your desk, it’s important to be comfortable. Investing in a high-quality chair will do wonders to improve your mood. You will immediately feel more motivated if you feel comfortable throughout the day. You’ll spend less time fidgeting in your chair and more time focused on your tasks. Another option is to get a relaxing chair to sit in during your breaks. Look for a cosy chair in your favourite colour. Having your own relaxation chair at work is a great way to manage your stress.

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Image Source: Unsplash

Add a Personal Touch

Creating a workspace that you enjoy being in helps encourage calm and relaxation. Plus, an uninspired environment does no good for your creativity or productivity. Try to add little touches of your personality here and there (as long as it’s not overly distracting). For example, you could bring in a couple items that remind you of home, like family photos or artwork. These homey reminders will help you feel at peace during periods of stress.

Adjust the Lighting

Big windows with natural lighting are ideal in a working environment, as the sun is a natural mood booster. If you don’t have big windows, it’s crucial to get the right balance of artificial light. Fluorescent lighting can be harsh on the eyes, making it difficult to focus. Instead, go for soft ambient lighting to create a more relaxing feel.

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Image Source: Pxhere

Bring in Relaxing Scents

The smells around you can affect your mood. Some smells, like lavender, are known to have calming properties. Why not bring some relaxing smells into your office space? Scented candles, flowers or essential oils can help to create a soothing atmosphere. Focus on the scents that make you feel happy and calm.

Keep Water at Your Desk

Many of us forget to stay hydrated throughout the busy workday. This can affect our overall energy and ability to focus. Keeping a large bottle of water at your desk will remind you to stay refreshed. The more refreshed you are, the easier it will be to stay calm in stressful situations.

Author Bio:

Johanna is passionate about home and design and is currently addicted to TV shows about house flipping and home renovation. However, on most days, she is busy crafting articles for blogs and local sites such as Hercules Gazebo. She resides in the laid-back city of Wellington, New Zealand. You can find the best excerpts of her written work on her blog, Musings of Johanna.

 

The Holiday Obligation Bill of Rights

christmas catIt’s that time of year again. It’s only the first week of December but the flames on your holiday stress fire have been getting hotter since mid November. I’m prone to seasonal affective disorder, which starts as soon as the time change happens and the clocks roll back an hour. Suddenly it’s pitch black when I’m driving home from work, everything is gray and overcast, and the deadlines are rushing at me like something out of a Final Destination movie.

Personally, I’ve got a book deadline, three blog commitments (I have a new website and I’ve started publishing on Medium, though I may adjust the frequency so I’m not tripling my workload with a weekly piece on each platform), and social plans all vying for my attention. Luckily, the whimsy of the season and the thrill of shopping for the perfect gifts for my loved ones gets me through the first couple months of fall/winter, but after the new year starts, it’s just three more months of slush and snow and darkness and existential angst.

As I’ve been working toward a lower impact life (both physically and mentally), I’ve found that I naturally have created guidelines for how to spend my time. Ever the minimalist at heart, it’s important for me to remember that minimalism isn’t just about physical stuff and clutter. It’s also about a healthy schedule and mental clutter so that I make time for the priorities.

Since the holiday season is usually stuffed to the brim like an overfilled stocking with social and family obligations, I want to remind everyone that boundaries and taking care of yourself are still important and valid, even when it feels like your time is more necessary elsewhere.

Here are ten rights you have this holiday season.

  1. You have the right to stay home. Seriously. Even if it’s Christmas at your mom’s house. Even if you haven’t seen your second cousins in fifteen years. Only accept plans you WANT to do and have the ABILITY to do.
  2. You have the right to limit your budget. While “gift giving” is one of the five major love languages, the price tag is not a defining characteristic. Don’t go broke (or into debt) in an attempt to show people how much you care. If you’re close to your budget limits and still want to give more, consider handmade gifts or writing heartfelt notes, especially if the recipient is a “words of affirmation” love language person.
  3. You have the right to leave early. If you’re at a holiday party or family gathering and you’re tired, uncomfortable, or otherwise just don’t want to be there, it’s okay to say your goodbyes and head home early.
  4. You have the right to eat what you want. Love your body, eat a cookie, don’t punish yourself.
  5. You have the right to ask for what you really want. Nobody has to give it to you, but you have the right to create a wish list and be clear about what you want. One year, my sister asked for cash to help fund an alternative break trip she was taking with a group in college, and family members deemed it inappropriate to ask for cash. Unless it hurts somebody, it’s okay to ask for what you want.
  6. You have the right to reschedule social plans. Some of my closest humans probably won’t be able to get together until after Yule and Christmas have actually passed. It’ll still be a great time. You can literally reschedule your holiday festivities to a later date, or celebrate early!
  7. You have the right to call it whatever you want. Celebrate Yule, Christmas, Hannukah, or any other of the myriad winter holidays happening within this timeframe? Rock on and celebrate it your way. Pay no attention to the grumps arguing about the war on Christmas. That’s not a thing.
  8. You have the right to not call people you don’t want to talk to. I am estranged from my parents, and the holidays are one of the toughest times to be estranged. I still feel a little tug that says I should call or reach out. Nope. I do not have to open myself up to emotional abuse, and neither do you.
  9. You have the right to return or re-gift. If you receive a gift that isn’t up your alley for any reason, you are under no obligation to keep it. Don’t stress out by finding a place for it or worrying about what Great Aunt Edna will think if she never sees that sweater in your selfies.
  10. You have the right to not hug people. Neither children nor adults are obligated to hug or otherwise show affection to anyone if they don’t want to. This is especially important to impart to children, who are learning about bodily autonomy. If a little kid doesn’t want to hug and kiss grandma, make it clear to everyone that it’s not okay to force it.
  11. BONUS: You have the right to decorate as much or as little as you want. I hung my favorite ornaments on a potted palm tree. You make the rules!