Author Archives: awachter

Do You Hate Your Body?

By Andrea Wachter, LMFT

Imagine you had a friend, and 24 hours a day, this friend was working for you, doing all kinds of really important things. Imagine your friend was holding you up, helping you walk, breathe, laugh, sleep, read, see, dream, hear sounds, touch things, feel love, pump blood into your veins, digest food, and countless other miracles.

Imagine after all that help and non-stop work, your response was to criticize this friend, call them names, and tell them you don’t like them or even that you hate them. Can you imagine that?

Well this is what many people do to their bodies. Our bodies work constantly for us, 24/7. Thanks to the media injecting unhealthy, unrealistic messages into our minds, every single day, most of us are not only forgetting to thank and appreciate our bodies for all that they do, but are walking around hating the amazing bodies we live in. Some kind of thanks that is!

I began hating my body when I was a teenager. I was basically a busy mind with limbs (and an unkind mind at that). I spent the majority of my time lost in self-critical thoughts, despising my body and comparing myself unfavorably to others. Of course drugs and alcohol attempted to help. At least they distracted me from my painful internal messages. I suppose, looking back, that my overactive unkind mind was really just trying to help. I truly believed that if I hated myself enough, I would do what I needed to attain the body I thought I needed in order to get the love and approval I so desperately needed. Sheesh. What a faulty system that was!

So year after year I went, obsessing, restricting, overeating, obsessing, restricting, over exercising, and repeat… I did manage to have a life in there. I somehow got through school, had many friends, had some slightly (make that excessively) dysfunctional relationships, and even did some traveling. On the outside, I’m sure people thought I was the life of the party. But on the inside, I suffered severely. Even when I was enjoying myself, a constant internal soundtrack played in the background that told me I was not good enough and that if I perfected my body, I would be.

Thankfully, after many years, I began to find help that actually helped. Only this time it wasn’t a new diet or exercise regime. It was deeper help for my emotions, my thinking, my endless food and fitness rules, my language of communication and my relationship with my heart and soul. And slowly I began to change. I began to challenge my unkind mind. I began to see that I could motivate myself with kindness instead of self-hatred. I began to include self-care and peace of mind in my top priorities instead of only trying to look (or be) a certain way in order to get loved. And, I began to love myself, which greatly reduced my desperation to receive it from others.

I always thought if I truly ate what I wanted, I would never stop eating but that was only the case when I never let myself eat what I wanted. I always thought if I treated myself kindly, I would never get anything done but that was before I tested out kindness as my home base. I always thought that self-love meant conceit but that was only because I hated myself so much and thought the only alternative was grandiosity rather than equality. I always thought that if someone was thin and attractive, they must have a perfect life, but that was only because I was lost in the cultural programing and didn’t know how to question its faultiness. I always thought I needed to change my body in order to be lovable but I realized what I needed to change was my thinking.

I have learned, over time, how to treat myself with kindness and compassion, how to question my ingrained beliefs, how to live a more balanced life, and how to eat real food in moderate amounts. I have learned that changing my body will not make me feel loved, loving myself will. As will being with people I love and feel safe with. And now I have the absolute honor of passing along all that I have so graciously been taught.

Occasionally I look back on old pictures of myself as a teen. And I remember that girl in those pictures. She felt dreadfully uncomfortable in her skin, in a bathing suit, at parties. I can see now that I was a precious adolescent with a changing, healthy body. If I could only tell her: You are fine. Eat all foods in moderation. Don’t believe everything you think or what others tell you they think. Move your body in ways that feel good and then rest, a lot. Speak your truth. Hang with others that hear your truth and want to tell you theirs. Seek to know your hearts desires and not just the desires of the world around you. Go for balance. Go for self-love.

I know I can’t save her from the years ahead of suffering, dieting, bingeing, comparing and despairing. But I can prevent myself from looking back on pictures 20 years from now and having to say: Oh honey, you are a lovely middle-aged woman. Welcome aging, wrinkles, sagging skin and spots. Don’t lose an ounce of precious time hating your body. Thank it for all it does for you, every single minute. Thank those limbs and systems. Thank those lungs. Thank that heart. Thank those miraculous senses that enable you to see and feel and write. Don’t waste another minute hating your body. Feed it, move it, rest it, love it. And help others do the same.

Click here to check out Mirror, Mirror on the Wall: Breaking the “I Feel Fat” Spell by Andrea Wachter and Marsea Marcus.

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Book Excerpt from Mirror, Mirror on the Wall: Breaking the “I Feel Fat” Spell

 

Children are not born with a bad body image. They learn it. They learn it from the culture and the media, or from relatives, friends, and schoolmates who learned it from the culture and the media. And since body hatred is an epidemic in our image-obsessed culture, there is no shortage of places for kids to learn to dislike their bodies. As a psychotherapist who has been specializing in eating disorders for over 25 years, I have been helping people of all ages who battle with their bodies to varying degrees. Whether they are dealing with a full-blown eating disorder, less severe “disordered eating,” or painful body image issues, they all deserve and need help.

I began hating my body when I was twelve years old. Someone teased me about the size of my thighs, and I felt what I now know was shame for the first time. This is what I refer to as a “Dart in the Heart” moment. My solution was to embark on my very first diet. Like many, this led me to sneak eating, bingeing, and roller coaster weight fluctuations. Like some, this morphed into a serious eating disorder. I say serious because it colored most of my life for several decades and greatly affected my mental and physical well-being. Fortunately, after many years of searching for help that actually helped, I began to unravel the root causes of my eating disorder and body obsession. I learned that I could not stop bingeing if I did not stop dieting. I learned what emotions I was eating over and what to do with those emotions instead. I learned how to challenge rather than believe every thought that popped up on the screen of my mind. And I learned how to find sweetness from many different sources, not just from cookies and ice cream. It was a long road. And the lovely parting gift from that arduous journey is that I now have the honor of helping others who struggle in similar ways.

The majority of my clients over the last few decades have been teenagers, college students, and adults, with a small sprinkling of young kids. But as our cultural obsessions with thinness, dieting, fat phobia, and social media have all gotten bigger, the age range of my clients seems to be getting younger. So instead of getting occasional calls from concerned parents, counselors, and doctors, I now receive them regularly. Imagine a small six-year-old child who cannot get dressed for school in the morning because she thinks she’s too “fat,” or an eleven-year-old girl who won’t go to a sleepover because all her friends are thinner than she is. Imagine a lovely eight-year-old who once enjoyed swimming but will no longer go in the pool because she feels too self-conscious in a bathing suit, or a nine-year-old boy who, though underweight, refuses to eat carbs. Or how about an eight-year-old girl who is obsessed with working out?

When I was eight years old, I was blissfully unaware of my body. I was playing tag in the yard with my siblings or watching The Brady Bunch in the den. I listened to records. I read in my canopy bed. Today, many young kids are surfing the Internet on iPhones and computers. This means that on top of the brainwashing they get on television, they are ingesting an additional barrage of messages on their other screens. They are bombarded with information about unnatural thinness, fat phobia, excessive fitness, endless food rules, and adult sexuality. Most of us adults did not experience anything like this until we were much older. And even then, we found it difficult to get through unscathed.

As I began to see more young children each week, I found myself needing to adapt the work I had been doing with adults into a more “kid-friendly” version. Some of the parents reported that they had already taken the advice from the current self-help literature: limiting screen time, filtering media, and teaching their children that all bodies are beautiful. While these suggestions are great, they weren’t helping to change what was already going on with their kids. It was as if their children had fallen under a spell, and nothing these parents said seemed to make any difference. What we needed to do was find a way to break the spell, or Retrain the Brain.

So, as I began teaching kids how to talk back to their Unkind Minds and strengthen their Kind Minds, I began to see something really exciting. Week after week, these precious little munchkins were bouncing into my office exclaiming that what we were doing was making a difference! One little six-year-old literally skipped into my office and said, “I was totally free this week. I think we broke the spell. It feels so much better to be in reality!” Another child, when I asked her to describe to her mom what she was learning in our sessions said, “Well, I was under the spell 98% last week, and this week I’m only 73% spell.” (Sounds like a budding mathematician to me!) One young boy, during a family session, announced, “I am over it. I’m sick of being so hard on myself. I just want to eat normally from now on. I don’t want to have to be perfect.” One parent told me that his daughter, who had been refusing to wear sleeveless dresses and bathing suits, was swimming again and taking off the oversized jackets that had become her daily cover-ups.

All of these dramatic changes were confirmation to me that there is great hope for children with painful body images. I realized I simply had to write a book to share these ideas and exercises with other children, parents, and counselors. It has been an honor to share all the tips and tools that helped me break my own spell, and I sincerely hope that Mirror, Mirror will help the child you care about break free of theirs.

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Author Interview – Mirror, Mirror on the Wall: Breaking the “I Feel Fat” Spell

By co-author Andrea Wachter, LMFT

I was recently interviewed by Janice Bremis, founder of the Eating Disorders Resource Services, to discuss my new children’s book, Mirror, Mirror on the Wall: Breaking the “I Feel Fat” Spell. I thought I would post our discussion in the hopes of reaching more kids and families who need help in this area. If you have, know or care about a child who suffers from a painful body image, please pass this along.

Janice: What sparked the idea for this book?

Andrea: I have been specializing in eating disorders and body image for over 25 years.  Throughout that time, I have mostly worked with adults and teens. But over the last few years, I started getting more and more calls from concerned parents, counselors and doctors. I began hearing about young kids with body image problems, some that had even progressed to disordered eating. Imagine a six-year-old child who feels “fat” and will no longer wear a bathing suit or sleeveless shirts. Or a seven-year-old girl who wants six-pack abs and obsessively does sit-ups in the back of the car! A twelve-year old who can barely get dressed for school in the morning because she thinks she’s “too fat,” or an eight-year-old boy who refuses to eat carbs. Who among us even knew what “carbs” or “six-pack abs” were when we were that young? I simply knew I had to do something to try to help these kids.

I reached out to many of my colleagues in the eating disorders field and found that they didn’t work with kids under twelve. Then I tried some of the child therapists I knew and was told that they didn’t treat body image issues and disordered eating. The parents who contacted me were desperate for help and I knew that helping kids sooner rather than later can often prevent a body obsession from escalating into a full-blown eating disorder. So I decided to roll up my sleeves and try to come up with a kid-friendly language to use with these kids. Then I started trying it out with kids and had astounding results. I asked my business partner and co-author, Marsea Marcus, to join me and we started writing this book.

Janice: I notice you use the term “Spell Breakers” throughout your book instead of traditional “Chapters.” Can you say something about that?

Andrea: Most kids (and adults for that matter!) have had a spell cast upon them in this image-obsessed, fitness-crazed culture. We have all been taught that there are “good” and “bad” foods and that we need to “burn calories” and develop a “six-pack” in order to be loveable and special. Most of us adults did not get caught under this spell until our teens or early adulthood. But thanks to social media and the increased obsession with perfection, thinness and fitness, many kids are getting spellbound even sooner. Our book is designed to help kids break the spell. So we use the term “Spell Breakers” instead of “Chapters.” Each Spell Breaker teaches kids (and parents) different ways to challenge the unhealthy beliefs that the culture and media have injected into them.

 Janice: Why the “I Feel Fat” Spell?

Andrea: The diet industry and the media have convinced most of us (kids now included) that eating fat and having fat on our bodies is a crime and should be avoided at all cost.

Most kids who hate their bodies do not have a body problem, they have a thinking problem. They think fat is bad. They think they are unlovable unless they look like the images they see in the media. They think if they changed their bodies they would live happily ever after. Our book helps readers challenge and change their thinking. We teach them that their thinking is making them suffer, not their thighs or their stomachs. Our book also teaches kids that “fat” is not a feeling. It has become commonplace in our culture for people to say, “I feel fat.” This is a cover story for deeper feelings like insecure, unlovable or scared. (Of course we use much more kid-friendly words in the book.) But what “I feel fat” usually means is they are having BIG feelings and they are left with thinking that they are too big. Our book helps readers dig deeper and decode what their true feelings are.

Janice: Is your book meant to be read by kids or adults?

Andrea: It really depends on the reading skill and maturity level of each kid. If a child is old enough to read and understand the book, they can certainly read it on their own. Kids that are on the younger end of the spectrum (six and seven) will likely need an adult to read the book to them or with them. Each Spell Breaker ends with a few thought-provoking questions, so it would be helpful if a parent or counselor discusses the questions with each child, but it’s not mandatory. Young readers can write their answers to the questions, or discuss them with a trusted adult in their lives.

Unlike many children’s books that are designed to be read in one sitting, this book is filled with a lot of really deep concepts and we recommend that readers take their time with it. If a child is in counseling, the counselor can read one Spell Breaker each week. Parents can read the book over the course of several nights or weeks to give their child a chance to absorb and practice each of the Spell Breakers. We have also gotten feedback from parents, telling us that they got as much from the book as their child did!

 Janice: What advice do you have for a parent whose young kid is feeling “fat?”

Andrea: First of all, look at the messages you are sending to your child about body image, food, fitness and feelings. Are you appreciating your body and the various shapes and sizes we are all supposed to be, or are you talking negatively about your own or other people’s bodies? (We call that, “Fat Chat.”) Are you role-modeling non-diet, moderate eating, or do you undereat, overeat, and talk about foods in terms of “good” and “bad”? Are you in touch with your natural hunger and fullness cues and encouraging your child to do the same? Are you exercising moderately and enjoyably, or are you obsessed with calorie and fat burning? Are you teaching your child how to live a balanced life by doing so yourself? Do you have a healthy relationship with emotions (your own and your child’s), or do you tell yourself and your child to stop crying or to quit feeling angry?

If you have a healthy relationship with your own body, you will be in a better position to help your child do the same. You can teach your child that if they feel bad about their body, it usually means they are having big feelings and they are blaming it on their precious body. You can help them learn to “Follow the Clues” as one Spell Breaker teaches and become a “Body Buddy” instead of a “Bully.” We very use kid-friendly language that most children take to right away and seem to recall easily and enjoy practicing. We hope the language in our book will offer kids a refreshing break from all the fat chat, calorie counting and competition that our culture has inflicted on them.

Janice: How do we stop this crazy obsession with thinness?

Andrea: Well, we can’t stop it singlehandedly and unfortunately we cannot stop it quickly. There is a massive hypnotic spell that has been cast upon our culture and although there are more and more health professionals and celebrities speaking out on the importance of body acceptance, we still have a very long way to go. I recently watched a movie where three young girls ordered a school lunch of lasagna and salad. They each then proceeded to eat a few bites of lettuce, simultaneously walk into the bathroom stalls at their school, and make themselves throw up! This insanity is normalized. When kids come into my office, utterly convinced that their bodies are unacceptable, I know I have my work cut out for me. I am fighting the cultural messages. It’s like I’m trying to give them medicine for the flu and then sending them out into a petri dish of flu germs. But I, and all the other people who carry the torch of body peace, acceptance and love, can only do what we can. We can plant seeds, with kids and with parents, because as parents heal, they can make a difference, even if the culture is not yet healed. We can learn to welcome our natural emotions instead of funneling them into the catchall phrase of “feeling fat.” We can learn to normalize the various shapes and sizes of human bodies and challenge the notion of perfection. We can learn to let go of extreme dieting. We can stop laughing at, and telling, fat jokes. And we can stop putting down our own bodies and start appreciating them.

Living in a food-obsessed, thin-possessed, perfectionist culture, breaking the “I Feel Fat” Spell is no easy task. But it is possible. With help, awareness and willingness, we can break the spell that has been cast upon us and we can help the children in our lives to live healthily ever after.

Click here to check out Mirror, Mirror on the Wall: Breaking the “I Feel Fat” Spell by Andrea Wachter and Marsea Marcus.

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Is Worry Useful?

By Andrea Wachter, LMFT

I am no stranger to worry. In fact, I was pretty much raised on it: love, chicken soup and worry. Suffice it to say that worrying is pretty much in my DNA. And after a few decades of counseling others from all walks of life, I realize that I am not alone. It’s human nature to worry. If you’re a parent, I’m pretty sure it’s in the job description. But having spent a lot of time lost in the depths of worry and its more intense form, anxiety, I have often wondered: Is worry actually useful?

We all have our share of things to worry about — from personal to global issues. But there is a distinction between worrying and thoughtful planning. Worry is about focusing on troubling things that might happen but generally speaking, worry does not help a troubling situation. Thoughtful planning and action can help. Deciding to let go and focus on the present moment can help. Sometimes, asking someone else for help can help. Sometimes asking something bigger than our minds — like whatever made the oceans, rainforests, flowers, snowflakes and babies — can help.

It’s not always easy to let go of our worrisome thoughts. Some are stronger and more convincing than others. But if we can stay committed to living more in the present moment instead of believing every thought that pops up in our minds, it can really make a difference.

One of my all time favorite quotes is from the author Eckhart Tolle. He says, “Worry pretends to be necessary but serves no useful purpose.” And boy oh boy does it pretend to be necessary! In my counseling practice, I regularly work with people who worry all the time. When we take a deeper look at their relationship to worry, I often notice a theme. A lot of people think that their worry somehow protects them from or prepares them for painful situations that may or may not happen in the future. But does it really? If someone worries that others will judge or criticize them, how does their worry actually help? How does constantly worrying that one might die prematurely or contract a fatal illness prevent that from happening? The theory I often hear is, “If I think about it in advance, I will be more prepared if or when it actually happens.” But is that true?

Worry does not prepare us for the future. It robs us of the present. Worrying is like trying to prevent something hard from happening in the future while causing something hard to happen in the present — worry! Worry is hard work and it’s stressful. We may tell ourselves that the right amount of worrying will help us get through an eventual disaster or hardship, but worry doesn’t have that kind of power. Now, I’m not talking about realistic preventative measures, like getting timely medical check-ups or going to a couples’ counselor if you’re worried about your relationship. If the weather channel is predicting a big storm, loading up on groceries and batteries might help, but worrying won’t. Unless you’re taking steps to actively do something about the issue or event that you’re worried about, worry is not really helpful.

So what does worry do? Worry makes your body feel as if the circumstance you are worried about is actually happening when in most cases it’s not. After experiencing my first big California earthquake, I found myself worrying frequently about there being another one. Every little jolt, door slam, foot stomp or thunderstorm sent me into a tizzy. Not to mention the quiet times my mind decided to get a jump on things and just plain worry without any evidence whatsoever! I realized after a while that if another actual earthquake happened, I wouldn’t have time to worry. I would head to the nearest door or react in whatever way I manage to at the time. Worrying now won’t help me then. Canned goods and bottled water might. So I began to thank my mind for sharing and for trying to anticipate and prepare for every possible future catastrophic quake. I began to reassure myself that I was actually safe in the moment. And I continued my resolve to spend more time in reality and deal with hard times when they actually arrived, rather than create them in a false attempt to prevent and prepare for them.

In recent years, life gave my worry some concrete evidence to sink its teeth into. My precious 85-year-old father began periodically fainting. Not a big fan of hydrating, the man plays tennis every day in hot weather and decides to as he calls it, “lay down.” Well my worry could have a field day with this one, especially given that my parents live thousands of miles away from me. One particularly memorable day, after a recent episode of “laying down,” I tried calling to check in with him. There was no answer on his or my mom’s cell phones and the home phone was busy… for hours. Well my worry began to have a feast. I’m talkin’ pull up a chair. Until I decided to practice what I preach. I asked myself, if my dad fainted, how is my terrorizing myself going to help him? If something horrible actually happens, how about if I deal with it then instead of creating it in my mind now and dealing with it twice the amount of time? It turns out my Dad had hung up the phone incorrectly, which was why it was busy. When I finally reached him, he was eating ice cream and watching a western. Note to self: We cannot prepare for the unthinkable but we can sure ruin a perfectly good day thinking about it! The episode with my dad reinforced this valuable lesson. We can deal with the hard parts of life when they actually occur or we can deal with them in our minds constantly and also when they occur.

Even though worry feels like serious business, a sense of humor can help sometimes too. In a recent session with a client who was preparing to travel abroad for a few months, we discussed her fears about her upcoming trip. She was excited for the opportunity to travel but she was very worried about going off to a foreign country without her familiar support system. She said, “I’m worried that my anxiety will ruin my trip.” She then laughed and said playfully, “I’m worried about ruining my trip and I am actually ruining my day! I’m worried about being worried!”

Another client of mine with was facing a frightening medical procedure. She spent months worrying about how much the procedure would hurt and how long it would take to heal. And she worried about having to go through it all again if her condition didn’t improve. The dreaded day finally came and went and she later told me that the procedure wasn’t nearly as bad as she had anticipated. She talked about how many months she spent worrying about the pain compared to how many moments the actual pain lasted and she was amazed. When she began to talk about how much time she “wasted” on worrying, I told her that the time would not be a waste if she could use it as a reminder to worry less and stay more present the next time she was facing a scary life circumstance.

These days, there’s plenty of grist for the worry mill: terrorism, the economy, climate changes, to name a few. Personally, I could lock and load my worry full-time if I’m not careful, conscious and in charge of who’s steering this tender ship. But I am. I realize every day that worrying about war, drought, floods, school shootings or the health of my loved ones is not going to keep something really hard from happening. Worrying only makes my system feel like the hard things are happening now.

So if you are a periodic or perpetual worrier, try asking yourself: Is this worry actually helping me or anyone else? Is there some action I could take to prepare for this worrisome possibility or can I let go and let life do what it will do anyway (with or without my well-intentioned assistance)? Can I reassure myself that whatever happens, I will handle it if and when it happens?

And then ever so gently, bring yourself back to whatever is actually and factually happening in this present moment right now…

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5 Ways to Rekindle the Spark in Your Relationship

By Andrea Wachter, MFT and Steve J. Legallet, MFT

Do you remember the feelings you experienced when you first started dating your spouse or partner? Perhaps you felt excitement, attraction, and anticipation? Chances are you were exceptionally attentive, polite, and considerate with this exciting new person in your life. You likely made an extra effort to be on your best behavior. As the relationship has progressed, how well have you maintained those initial feelings and behaviors?

It is human nature to highly value a new love interest and to treat that person with great care and respect. Unfortunately, it is also human nature to become complacent and to take people for granted as time passes. Just as a child may excitedly treat a new toy as precious and valuable, only to lose interest and ignore it later, partners who have been together a long time may no longer treat each other as they did during the preliminary thrill of connecting. Once kids, careers, and life’s responsibilities are added to the mix, that initial level of loving kindness and respect can easily diminish.

The good news is that the spark of love, appreciation, and closeness can be reignited. It is possible to rediscover the special connection that brought you and your partner together in the first place. If you are in a long-term relationship that is starting to feel a bit stale or unsatisfying, here are some tips to help you rekindle the spark.

1. Remember and Re-experience — Remember those early days of dating, when your partner could do no wrong? You probably had butterflies of excitement at the mere thought of getting together. Perhaps you left your first few dates with the thrilling anticipation of seeing them again. If you did notice any less than favorable qualities, they were easy to overlook and probably overshadowed by all the things you liked. Unfortunately, over time, many people start focusing more on what they see as their companion’s flaws and shortcomings rather than the qualities they once found endearing.

As Marriage and Family Therapists, we have worked with many clients who have innocently fallen into that negative trap. What we have found is that most relationships can be greatly enhanced when partners consciously and regularly remember and re-experience the thoughts, feelings, and appreciation they once had for each other.

Try looking at your partner through new eyes. Consciously consider the things you like, love, and appreciate. Think about what you would miss about them if they were gone. Ask yourself: What attracted you to your partner in the first place? What were your early dates like? What were the qualities about this person that you found most loveable?

Recall the sweet times you have shared together and focus your attention on your partner’s positive qualities so you can re-experience the feelings that you felt in the early days of your relationship.

2. Listen Attentively — When you went on the first few dates with your partner, you probably did not have your face buried in an iPad or a cell phone. (Perhaps they weren’t even invented yet!) It is more likely that you paid close attention to him or her and acted in a manner that showed how much you truly cared about what they had to say. You probably wanted to know everything about them and listened carefully to what they shared about themselves. That loving attentiveness you once demonstrated and received can easily lessen as the years go by. Taking the time to intently listen to your partner can have a profoundly positive impact on closeness and connection.

If your partner initiates a conversation, whenever possible, stop what you are doing and make eye contact with this person you once adored. As they share their thoughts and feelings with you, truly focus on what they have to say. Remind yourself that since what they are saying feels important enough for them to share with you, they deserve your undivided attention. If the timing is not good for you, respectfully tell them, “I really want to hear what you have to say but I need a few minutes to (fill in the blank with your need) in order to be able to give you my full attention. Would that be okay?” Then be sure to keep your promise to return to the conversation and listen attentively.

3. Inquire Deeply — In the courting stage of relationships, people usually want to know more about each other. Granted, all the stories are new and hot off the press when you first meet, but even if you have been with someone for years, you can still remain genuinely open to wanting to hear more about their thoughts, feelings, and experiences. Even if your partner is retelling a story that you have already heard, think about how many times you have repeatedly listened to a song or watched a movie. There is always something worthwhile to learn from your loved one’s experiences and thoughts.

Practice asking your partner about their day or seize the opportunity to inquire more deeply if they voluntarily share something about themselves. See if you can really listen to what they are saying and respect that what they are telling you matters to them, even if it might be about a subject that you do not personally relate to. Try asking a few follow-up questions about what they shared. The key is to be fully present with this person you care about and to give them your full attention as they share their thoughts, feelings, and experiences. Listen to them in the same respectful, attentive, considerate manner that you would like them to have with you.

4. Mind Your Manners — Take an honest look at the way you speak to your spouse or partner, particularly when you are frustrated, angry, tired, or depressed. Unfortunately, for many people, if they spoke to their friends the way they speak to their partners, they wouldn’t have too many friends left. The tone we use and the words we choose can have a profound impact, both positive and negative, on the quality of our relationship. So it’s extremely important that we manage our emotions, which requires self-awareness, self-control, commitment, and maturity.

Remember to stay tuned in to your own thoughts, feelings, and needs so that you are able to communicate respectfully when your emotions are triggered. Too often people use harsh words that can unwittingly do damage and echo in their partner’s ears for a long time. To prevent this from happening, it’s always a good idea to ask for a time out when things heat up. Try using these three words in a respectful tone: “I’ll be back” and then let your partner know that you simply need to take some time to calm down and sort out your thoughts. Unlike Arnold, you’re not issuing a violent threat; rather, you’re informing your partner that you will be back when you’ve cooled off, and you will then be able to finish the conversation in a more respectful manner.

5. Stoke the Fire — In our busy, task-oriented world, we too often put our relationship on the back burner and forget to keep the spark of love alive. Getting caught up in our daily rituals and routines, we may miss the opportunity to shake things up romantically with the one we love. It doesn’t have to be two weeks in Tahiti. It could be a special date night or a spontaneous dance in the living room with the lights turned low. The point is: keep the intimate connection alive.

Find things that you both enjoy doing and then make the time to do them together. Maybe it’s engaging in an activity that you both used to enjoy — or trying something new and “out of the box.” Leave your smart phones behind and discover a new hiking trail, restaurant, or club. Silence the phones and play a board game, read a sexy book out loud, or slow-dance. Leave a love note in an unsuspecting place, give your partner an unsolicited massage, light some candles in the bedroom and play a song from your dating days. Shake up your routine, be creative, be playful, be open and kind. Most important: be present. Look for opportunities to stoke the fire. The possibilities are endless.

Will recalling the good times, minding your manners, listening attentively, inquiring deeply, and shaking it up romantically really make a difference? Is it possible to rekindle the spark that originally brought you and your partner together? Try some of these tips… and see what happens!

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40 Symptoms of a Healthy Woman

By Andrea Wachter, LMFT

In a recent session with a client who is struggling with depression, we were discussing some healthy things she could begin to do for herself. She was well aware of the symptoms of depression but she wondered, aside from the obvious, about the “symptoms” or signs of a healthy woman. She asked me if there was a list I could compile for her, and I thought I would share what I came up with. If you notice something I left out, feel free to let me know!

P.S. I asked my husband, Steve Legallet (who is also a psychotherapist), how he thought this list could work for men. He said that I could basically exchange the “shes” with “hes” and it would totally hold up.

40 Symptoms of a Healthy Woman

1) She takes care of her body and treats it with respect.

2) She eats well and doesn’t under-eat, binge, or purge.

3) She moves her body in ways that feel good to her and rests without an ounce of guilt.

4) She gets an adequate amount of sleep and rest. If she has difficulty sleeping, she sees it as an opportunity to practice mindfulness and/or other relaxation techniques.

5) She does not abuse drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, caffeine, or screen-time.

6) She maintains a good balance between resting and accomplishing things (being and doing).

7) She maintains a good balance between being with people and being alone.

8) When she is alone, she enjoys her own company.

9) She treats herself like she would treat a child she adores or her best friend.

10) She has a loving, kind soundtrack of thoughts that play in her mind and when unkind or unhelpful thoughts pop up, she challenges them.

11) She has a good relationship with her emotions. She cries when she’s sad and expresses her anger and frustration respectfully. She welcomes all her feelings and either sits with them, reaches out to safe people, or gives herself what she needs.

12) She is able to grieve her losses and treat herself kindly in the process.

13) She reaches out for support when she’s struggling.

14) She has made peace with the past and also acknowledges and honors her past hurts when they arise.

15) She can tolerate anxiety and change without catastrophizing.

16) She spends a lot of her time in the present moment rather than lost in the past or the future.

17) She spends time doing things for the sheer pleasure of it rather than always thinking she needs to be accomplishing something.

18) She makes time for things that fulfill her and are important to her.

19) She is able to compromise at times without compromising her values or her core needs.

20) She follows her heart and gives herself time to get clarity if she is unsure about something.

21) She maintains a balance between giving to herself and giving to others.

22) She knows that hard times will pass, and she is extra sweet to herself when life feels extra hard.

23) She uses supportive tools (journaling, reaching out to safe people, spiritual practices, reading, therapy, podcasts, etc.) when life gets hard instead of using substances, negative self-talk or unhealthy behaviors.

24) She feels lovable and worthy regardless of the circumstances in her life.

25) She looks for opportunities to practice acceptance and gratitude.

26) She is aware of her finances and lives within her means.

27) She uses her finances to both treat herself and be responsible for herself.

28) She can accept compliments without disclaimers.

29) She doesn’t expect herself (or others) to be happy all the time and uses her struggles as opportunities to get support and be kind to herself.

30) She expresses her thoughts, feelings and needs in a respectful, mature manner and respectfully listens to other people’s thoughts, feelings and needs.

31) She spends time with people she feels safe and aligned with.

32) She sets limits with others when she needs to. She can say “no” or “I need to change my mind” on occasion without thinking she is a terrible person.

33) She does not spend time comparing herself to others. She knows that everyone struggles and that nobody is better than or less than she is.

34) She does not give other peoples’ opinions more weight than her own.

35) When confronted with disagreements, she values the other person’s point of view and also checks in with herself to see if she agrees, disagrees, or needs more time to think about it.

36) She can hear and consider difficult feedback from others without attacking them or herself.

37) She can apologize to others and forgive herself for her humanness.

38) She can forgive others for being imperfect and move beyond relationship glitches.

39) She can be in her strength without being disrespectful to others. She can be in her softness without being disrespectful to herself.

40) She doesn’t think she needs to be perfect at anything — including any of the above!

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What Would Your Last Meal Be?

By Andrea Wachter, LMFT

On a recent road trip with my husband, we listened to a radio program about the last meal of a death row prisoner. While I can’t remember the exact food items that the prisoner requested, his menu was something along the lines of: three Big Macs, two large fries, a large pizza, two pieces of cake, macaroni and cheese and more. The inmate’s last meal of essentially carbs and fats brought me back to my eating disorder days when I likely would have ordered the same things if I were about to die.

I used to fantasize that if I was about to have my last meal, I would eat everything I never let myself have. Back in my dieting decades, that would have been a lot! I spent years bouncing back and forth between the prison of restriction and the diet riot of all out binges. So the idea of being able to have anything I wanted as a last meal conjured up a feast of treats. (Although by the time I was done bingeing, I never felt like I had treated myself to much of anything!)

As my husband and I drove along, we proceeded to tell each other what we might each order if we knew that we were approaching our last meal. “Grilled chicken and gorgonzola salad with some yummy dressing,” I said. “With a warm bran muffin topped with some of my favorite ice cream. Oh, and some perfectly ripe strawberries with a few bites of my favorite chocolate cake.” We looked at each other and laughed as we simultaneously agreed that these are the kinds of foods that I usually eat every day!

I spent most of my life eating salads with low-fat dressing, lean protein, fruit and a small list of what I considered to be acceptable carbs. I would then proceed (sometimes weeks, days, hours or minutes later) to binge on all the stuff I never let myself have. It took me many years and many pounds to gain the courage to break that crazy cycle. I eventually learned that if I ate what I truly wanted — in moderate amounts — there would be nothing to rebel from; I would be genuinely satisfied and I could go on with my day until the next time my body needed food. I thought when I first began this radical experiment that I would only want carbs and fats but that was only the case when I never let myself have them (or told myself they were “bad” when I did.) But when all foods became equal options on the menu, the deprived beast inside of me eventually began to tame. I began to eat what were previously forbidden foods, and a moderate amount began to satisfy me. When I truly listened to my body rather than the starving rebellious beast within, I began to crave what turned out to be pretty balanced meals.

What I also realized during our little “last meal” game was that not only is there no longer anything to rebel from but I also would want to feel good, even if, or perhaps especially if it were my last moments on earth. I wouldn’t want to stuff myself till I was sick. I would want a moderate amount of the foods that I love. Just like I now do every day.

Of course everyone has to find out what they truly love, what foods make them feel well, and what “moderate” is for them. Everyone also needs to find the courage to distinguish between their various hungers in order to nourish themselves with what they really need. When we eat, in moderate amounts, what we truly love and what our bodies love, we are eating to satisfy our physical hunger — rather than our emotional and spiritual hungers. But those other hungers are still there, and no amount of carbs or fats will ever satisfy them. When we no longer stuff down our feelings with food, we’re left with… our feelings.

A client of mine who has been striving to eat what she truly wants in moderate amounts has been facing this dilemma. As we spoke about food and feelings one day, she told me, “For years, when I am filled with really big feelings, I head to the nearest drive-thru or donut shop. That’s just what I have always done.” So, I asked her, “What if food was not an option? What if you were filled with feelings and could not get food?” She said, “I’d probably have to cry or scream or maybe hit something!”

Bingo! So we talked about the pros and cons of doing just that. She expressed her fears about crying or screaming or hitting something (not someone and preferably something soft!) We talked about what she would need in order to do those things and what it might be like to let her feelings out naturally so she wouldn’t have to stuff them down unnaturally. Easier said than done, I know. But it really does become easier once we learn to compassionately feel and safely express our emotional pain and see that it passes. And when we are moderately eating the foods that we love, when the tidal waves of emotion pass, we are no longer left with the additional pain caused by overeating. We no longer want or crave more than our body needs. Once we begin to feed ourselves lovingly and moderately, we can know that if we still want food then some other part of us is hungry; a part that food will never touch. Food might sedate those cravings for a little while but it will never fully satisfy them.

So what would your last meal on earth consist of? Would it be large quantities of the foods you often tell yourself you “shouldn’t” have? Or a delicious meal that truly satisfies you? As for me, I’m off to have my heavenly, moderate last meal… of the day. I hope you will join me.

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Sometimes Adults Need Tantrums, Too!

By Andrea Wachter, LMFT

When I was studying to become a psychotherapist, a professor told me that people generally seek therapy for one of two reasons: They are either having a tantrum or they need to have one! I have actually counseled people for many additional reasons but the tantrum tip has stuck with me over the years. And as I have worked with clients’ issues (as well as my own), I have recognized the importance of an occasional adult tantrum.

Tantrums are usually associated with children and are often considered unpleasant and unwanted. But what about a healthy, grown-up tantrum? What about making a conscious decision to welcome up our emotions rather than stuff them in or lash them out?

We all experience bumps in the road that trigger emotions. These bumps can range from minor irritations to challenging hardships to major traumas. A flat tire, a root canal, lost luggage: not fun, but likely something you’ll get over in a day or two. Your child’s difficulties in school, a rough patch at work, financial problems, marital problems: These can get you down for months. And then there are those life-changing, sucker-punch events that can knock us down for the count: a cancer diagnosis, the death of a loved one, an unwanted divorce, a natural or unnatural disaster. Personally, I’d like to speak to the manager in charge of dolling these out, but there is no escaping the fact that they are part of being human.

Obviously, minor annoyances are easier to deal with and recover from; but what about those ongoing stressful circumstances or the overwhelming realities we have to bare that feel utterly unbearable?

It seems to me that we have several options for how to deal with life’s hard breaks and heartbreaks:

1) Accept the news, situation or disaster as an integral part of life… and carry on. (Usually those who can readily do this are the more spiritually evolved among us. I know a few!)

2) Fight it, hate it, argue with it, chronically complain about it, and refuse to accept the situation.

3) Deny the difficulty of the situation and pretend like everything is perfectly fine. (This is where addictions come in handy.)

4) Allow yourself to have a safe, responsible, healthy, adult tantrum (the kind my wise professor spoke about years ago). This will help you eventually feel ready to accept the harsh reality you are facing.

I remember many years ago when my little nephew Douglas (now a young man in his mid-20s) came to visit me for a sleepover. We had just finished a fun day at an amusement park, and I informed him that it was time to go. He was not at all happy about this new development in our day and he proceeded to have a full-on tantrum. Being a new therapist (not to mention an aunt, which is infinitely less challenging than a mom), I told him it was fine for him to have his feelings but that we were going to need to head home in a few minutes. Well have his feelings he did. That boy let it rip. He proceeded to fling his little body onto the ground, kicking and screaming, punching his fists and rolling around in the dirt. After what felt like a really long time (but was probably about a minute), he picked himself up, walked over to me and with a tear stained, dirty little face said, “I was mad Aunt Andi. And then I was sad. Now I’m ready to go.” From the mouths of babes.

In the therapy world, we call such a tantrum “fully having your feelings” or going through one or more of the natural stages of grief. Practically speaking, a healthy, grown-up tantrum can look like many things: hitting a punching bag, mattress or pillow, talking about your feelings with someone who is comfortable with emotions, crying, wailing, screaming, shaking, journaling, anything your body wants to do to express your emotions as long as nobody and nothing of value gets hurt. A friend of mine will occasionally email me a long string of curse words when life throws her a doozy. No spaces, just one long word. She takes several of her favorite curse words and merges them into one looooong word to emphasize her point. And depending on the difficulty of the news, several or more exclamation points follow it up. This seems to do the trick to get things started!

Whatever your choices of expression are, when you consciously, responsibly, unabashedly, compassionately and safely have an adult “tantrum,” you are more likely to move through your emotions and achieve some form of acceptance. Of course, the more serious the life event, the longer the tantrum may need to last and reoccur. But we all have the options of stuffing our feelings in, blasting them out in unhealthy ways, or fully expressing what we feel in order to eventually come to accept what life has brought to our door.

I have found that when people allow themselves to safely express their anger, sadness, shock and fear while simultaneously practicing compassionate self-care and seeking compassionate companionship, they can navigate the turbulent phases of life without hurting themselves or anyone else. They naturally experience more acceptance rather than stay stuck in denial, depression, anxiety, addiction or acting out.

So how do you respond to life’s curve balls? Do you live in a permanent tantrum that leaves you feeling angry most of the time? Do you refuse to accept what life has brought to your door? Do you stuff your feelings down with substances or other addictive behaviors? Do you feel chronically depressed, anxious or hopeless? Do you pretend that everything is just fine when it’s not? Or are you able to allow yourself to truly and fully express your feelings — to be mad, sad, scared — and then eventually reach an acceptance of your reality?

How about letting yourself have a healthy, safe, responsible tantrum when life throws you a curve ball? How about getting extra support, extra tissues, and extra self-care, until your tear-stained self is ready to move on? May we all, in the face of our adversities, follow in the footsteps of my young nephew: feel mad, feel sad, and then feel ready to go.

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How Many Likes Are Enough?

By Andrea Wachter, LMFT

As a therapist who enjoys writing, several years ago I decided to hop on the blogging bandwagon. Having received a moderate number of likes and positive feedback, it seemed for a while that nobody was worse for the wear and maybe a few people even benefited. Then came the day when one of my blogs seemed to strike a chord. A friend called me first thing in the morning and excitedly said, “You have thousands of likes on your new blog and they are increasing by the minute!” “That’s great,” I said. “But maybe the counter is broken!” So, with a little bounce in my step, I headed over to my computer and sure enough, the “likes” were on a roll. Cool, I thought. After all, who doesn’t like to be liked?

Although some may refer to us as the Like Generation, wanting approval is nothing new. It’s human nature to hunger for praise. As babies, we crave the “oohs” we receive when our parents are pleased. As young kids, we feel gratified when we hear “Great job!” As teens, we long for the constant approval of our peers. As adults, most of us seek the approval of partners, friends, family members, bosses, teachers and coaches. It seems our approval-seeking never ends.

So, what about my thousands of likes? Well, a few hours after that phone call from my friend, I received a text from another friend. She wrote, “Love your new blog but you might want to pass on reading the comments. There are some pretty negative ones out there.” I thought: Wait! What? N-n-negative c-c-comments on the H-h-huffington Post? I’m just a small town writer sharing a few personal stories and tips!

While I used to strive for a black belt in people-pleasing, I like to think I have come a long way in my quest to retire from that role. But for me, the HuffPost is where the people-pleasing rubber meets the public access road. Is it fine that I get tons of likes and fine if I don’t? Are negative comments perfectly okay? Can I feel good about myself on the inside, no matter what happens on the outside–in the blogosphere?

For many years I have admired the Buddhist principle about striving to have the essence of a tree; striving to be so sturdy on the inside that even if strong winds blow, you will not blow over. Even if birds poop on your branches, you will not uproot yourself. (The bird poop part is mine, not part of the Buddhist principle!) So, am I finally as sturdy as a tree?

When we seek approval from outside our selves, it is a never-ending search. Not only are we at the mercy of other people’s ever-changing opinions but circumstances are always changing as well. We might make one friend happy but another is disappointed in us. Or we might please our partner one day but not the next. Perhaps our boss is happy with a new project we just completed (Yeahhh!) but is disappointed in the next one (Uh-oh). Or, we feel good about accomplishing a bunch of chores (I rock!) but our spouse points out the projects we haven’t yet gotten to (Grrrrrrr).When we constantly seek and need outside approval, our self-worth seems to go up and down like the stock market.

The need for self-approval (or self-likes, if you will) can be similarly unrelenting. Do we give ourselves credit for taking steps toward accomplishing a particular goal–or are we so hard on ourselves that we must achieve the pinnacle of success in order to warrant a self-pat on the back? If we wait to give ourselves the approval we need until our to-do lists are completely accomplished, our goals are thoroughly achieved, and our positive comments are at 100%, we will be waiting a lifetime. If we live for those likes, we will constantly be striving, waiting, wanting and hoping.

But if we praise and appreciate ourselves regularly then we already have what we are wanting from others. There’s no waiting, no hoping, no needing and no monthly fees or dues! We give ourselves what we have been seeking from others and… voila! And when we truly know that we are okay and likeable and enough (even with our imperfections), we won’t need to go looking for that approval outside ourselves and we won’t crumble if we don’t get it because we’ll already be liked by the only individual who can truly make us feel that we’re okay.

If we regularly give ourselves the love and approval we seek and need, then we won’t have to go looking for it. We don’t usually look for something if we already have it. We don’t go looking for our keys if we already have them in our hand. (Well, at my age, I sometimes do so let me try that again!) If your gas tank is full, you’re not likely to pull into a gas station to fill it up. We only go looking for what we don’t have. So if we are regularly filled with self-love and self-approval, we won’t need to look for it from others.

Some people think that if they stop criticizing themselves and start praising themselves regularly, they will lack the motivation to succeed. I usually find that the opposite is true. In fact, I often challenge my clients by suggesting that when they find themselves wanting approval or recognition from someone else, that they give it to themselves. Then they can discover how that feels and how that might motivate them. This does not mean that we do not ask others for recognition now and then, it simply means it’s not a self-worth deal breaker if we don’t get it!

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not exactly thrilled by negative comments. But I no longer crumble or turn the negativity on myself or others. And I hope, if you receive less than positive feedback, you will not turn on yourself or others either! So give it a try. See if you can begin to give yourself the likes you are wanting from others. See how it feels to give yourself what you have been trying to get. Oh, and if you want to like this blog, that’s fine; and if you don’t, that’s fine too!

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7 Things I Wish I’d Known When I Was Battling Depression

By Andrea Wachter, LMFT

I spent many years in and out of depression, and while I felt very much alone at the time, I know now that I was not. Millions of people battle the dark depths of depression every day. Like many others, I kept most of my painful thoughts and feelings to myself. When I finally got desperate enough to reach out for professional help, it took a long time for me to actually believe and integrate the guidance that I was given.

Here are some key truths I have come to believe. If you are struggling with depression, I hope you will too.

1. Don’t believe everything you think.
We all have our share of losses and challenges in life. But the main cause of depression is not usually our life circumstances. It is our thinking. Unfortunately, when we are depressed, we tend to believe our thoughts. And the mind of a depressed person is not usually the best place to hang out. When I was battling depression, I wholeheartedly believed every thought that popped up on the screen of my mind. My thoughts seemed and felt so true. I even gathered evidence to support them and ignored evidence to the contrary. For example, when I was single and feeling lonely, I only saw couples out in the world. My mind refused to take in that there were millions of single people around me as well. Not to mention millions of unhappy couples. If I was struggling with a recent weight gain, I only saw thin, confident looking women. My mind refused to see anyone else. It was as if my depressed self was on trial and my mind was the prosecuting attorney gathering evidence that I was not okay and that everyone else was. Eventually, after lots of help from others and a good dose of willingness from within, I learned that I could take a stand against my internal programs. I learned that I could disagree with my discouraging thoughts and eventually dispel them for good. You can too!

2. Do the opposite of what the “voice of depression” suggests.
As a psychotherapist, I often find myself encouraging people to follow their hearts, listen to their true feelings, and go with their intuition… unless they are depressed. That’s because when we are lost in depression, we are not in the best position to make wise decisions regarding self-care. My “voice of depression” used to convince me to isolate, veg out all day, oversleep, binge, starve, get high or give up. I had to learn to do the opposite of what that internal voice was telling me to do. I had to learn that when I was depressed and thought I should isolate, I should do exactly the opposite and reach out to a friend or attend a support group. When the voice of depression told me to watch TV all day, I had to push myself to take a walk or listen to a self-help cassette tape (remember those?) When my mind told me not to eat breakfast because I wanted to lose weight or because I had no appetite, I needed to do the opposite and eat a nutritious meal anyway or I was going to set myself up for yet another binge followed by even deeper depression.

Unfortunately, depression zaps the energy we need to do the very things that will make us feel less depressed. Learning to do the opposite of what your voice of depression suggests will help you begin to climb out of its painful and familiar grip.

3. Don’t open virus-infested links.
We don’t usually have a choice about what thoughts pop up in our minds. But we do have a choice about whether or not to open those “virus-infested links” containing the same old self-sabotaging thoughts. Rather than allow our thoughts to infect our whole system, we can choose to only download ideas we know to be safe and user-friendly. So if you know that your “unkind mind” is operating, you can choose to close it and only open up what you know are safe programs. If you know that a certain link will tell you “I am a loser,” decide to download the “This is what’s okay about me” message instead. Instead of opening the “My life sucks” link, you can choose the “These are some things that are good about my life” podcast. Avoid the virus that says, “Everyone has a better life than me” and download “Here are some things I’m grateful for.” With willingness and practice, you can prevent yourself from getting an emotional virus.

4. Upgrade your mantras.
Whether or not you consider yourself to be a spiritual person or believe in the concept of mantras, we are all constantly repeating internal messages to ourselves. Our minds are mantra machines, and whether our messages are kind, neutral, unkind or abusive, they make an enormous difference in the quality of our lives. I used to have a mantra that went something like this: I’m too weak to handle life. I’m not cut out for this. Things are never going to get better. Not exactly an Oprah pick-me-up! I had heard of the self-fulfilling prophecy that if you tell a child they are stupid long enough, they will begin to believe it and act that way. But here I was self-fulfilling my own prophecies. I had to begin to pry my gripped fingers off of my internal whip and set it down. I had to practice some new mantras that were kinder and as it turned out, more true.

My upgraded mantras sound more along the lines of this: I can handle what happens. Everyone has struggles. I am safe in this moment. I can do things to improve my life. I am worthy. We are all the same on some level. I learned that even if I didn’t believe them at first, it was an upgrade in the system and I had to start somewhere. Plus, the people that told me to speak to myself with more kindness swore that it would eventually make a difference and I knew where they lived if it turned out they were wrong! They were not wrong.

5. You are not alone.
I remember the first time I asked someone if they ever thought about suicide and they said they hadn’t. I was floored. “Never?” I asked. “Not even once?” It simply never even occurred to me that everyone wasn’t battling those dark thoughts; that everyone wasn’t as sensitive as I was, and that everyone wasn’t deciding whether or not to stick around and choose life. But it’s true. We are all different breeds and some of us are more sensitive and thought-filled than others. Yes, we all face hard times and we all — regardless of fame, fortune or physique — will face losses. But some of us have a darker internal experience than others. It’s important to find people who reallyunderstand and can handle your pain and your dark thoughts, people you feel totally safe with.

I also remember the first time I confided in a friend that I was suicidal. She was completely silent. I’m talkin’ not one word. Poor thing. I know now she had zero skills to deal with such intense information and we were pretty young at the time but it left me feeling even more alone and despairing. It would be years before I would risk sharing my dark secret again; however, the next time, I chose a professional who really got me and really knew how to respond. Boy did I feel the difference! It’s so important to seek out loving, compassionate, non-judgmental people until you can be that way toward yourself. If you are looking for a therapist, consider someone who has Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) skills as well as Mindfulness Training. CBT will help you learn to challenge and change your thinking and mindfulness will help you learn to live without becoming lost in your thoughts.

6. Something needs to die, but not you!
Being a sensitive person in a demanding and often perfectionistic world is not easy. I spent years thinking I just wasn’t cut out for this life. My go-to thought when things felt overwhelming was “I’m outta here.” It’s hard for me to believe that now because I’m so committed to seeing this life through. I’ve learned that difficult feelings pass and that not every thought needs to be camped out on. But back in my dark decades, I truly wanted out. A lot. Sometimes my way out was through addictions and sometimes it was truly wanting out.

What I know now — and I hope, if you are in the grips of depression, that you will know too — is this: If your mind is telling you that you need to die, it might mean that something does indeed need to die, but not you! Your perfectionism might need to die. Self-hate might need to die. The belief that you can’t handle life might need to die. The thought that everyone else has a charmed life might need to die. The thought that you are alone and that nobody cares might need to die. But not you. Underneath the habitual unkind mind is a quiet, loving heart with passions, ideas and dreams. Once you let go of your self-negating thoughts, all those other parts of you can be tapped into and lived to their fullest.

7. One chapter is not the whole book.
When you are struggling with depression, it is so tempting to think that this is the way it will always be. But life takes different twists and turns, and we don’t get to know what the next chapter in our life will bring if we give up on ourselves. One client spent years comparing herself to her seemingly happily married friends and felt desperately lonely. Despite my weekly reminders that life stories can change, she was convinced that hers would not. But her story did change. She is now married and enjoying her new chapter in life. Additionally, a few of her previously “perfect and happy” friends are now divorced. I’m not one to say I told you so. I am just one to say that things can change. We all experience sad, challenging chapters in our lives, just as we all experience change. Regardless of whether or not our outside circumstances drastically shift, if our minds change, everything can change. This is why some people have what is seemingly a dreary job and swear that they are the happiest people on the planet, while others have literal fame and fortune and yet struggle with addictions and depression or even take their own lives.

So if you are battle weary from depression, try challenging your next dark thought. Try doing the opposite of what your voice of depression suggests. Upgrade your daily mantra to something kinder and more grateful. Allow a harmful thought pattern to die. Try reaching out to someone who really understands you… and see how the next chapter unfolds!

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