H.A.L.T. - none of us are perfect

I know I haven't posted in awhile.  I could give a million reasons/excuses as to why, but the reality is I'm just not perfect.  And let me explain what I mean.

When I think about all the usual things I have on my plate, I can get exhausted just thinking about.  And that's before adding in basketball season, so you can only imagine how it feels then.  That's why I constantly emphasize self-care.  I (nicely/jokingly) lecture my clients about it.  I've given interviews to psychology students and up-and-coming new therapists, and when they ask what is the most important thing I could tell them to learn, I always say self-care.  That's why I make time for the important things in my life...family, friends, sleep.  I work 6 days a week (sometimes 7 during basketball season), so on my day off I will sleep all day.  And when I say that, I really mean ALL day.  There have been a handful of times that I went to bed on a Saturday night and only woke up long enough on Sunday to eat some dinner before going back to bed until Monday.  I used to feel guilty about it, but now I know I need it.  I have a standing 2-hour appointment for a massage every Sunday, and there have even been days that I didn't want to get out of bed for that.

Now I know that I'm making it sound like I'm exhausting myself and overworking, but it's not like that (well maybe slightly, but that's not the point I'm making).  I love to sleep.  It might be one of my absolute favorite things to do.  And I'm most definitely NOT a morning person, so I enjoy staying up late.  But I also get energy from spending time with the people I love, although I have to do that in moderation as well because I tend towards being an introvert so I gain energy from time alone.  (On a side note, there are some fascinating theories about this, with the Myers-Brigg being the prevailing theory, although there are some who disagree).  I've learned it's important to make time for the things that are important.  But what happens when the important things become more taxing than helpful?

There's the acronym H.A.L.T. that has been so valuable to me.  It stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired.  When we are one of those things, we tend to be more irritable and can project our issues on people/things that have nothing to do with it.  When we are two or more of those things, well, you get the picture.  It's not wise to make significant decisions, or sometimes even minor decisions, when we are HALTing.  Think of it this way...you know how they say never go grocery shopping when you're hungry?  Yeah.  That's my point.  You end up with a basket full of frozen pizzas, Ding Dongs, chips and salsa, marshmallows, bread, cheese, grapes, and Nutella.  It's kind of ridiculous.  So if you're trying to be there for others but you haven't eaten or didn't get a good night's sleep, maybe read something political that infuriated you, maybe you haven't emotionally connected with someone in awhile, chances are you're going to be an emotional wreck and no good to anyone.

I've recently been faced with some things in my life that are heavy, to say the least.  And being part of such a loving and supportive family has been my saving grace.  But it also makes me want to be there for them at every moment, which doesn't always work with the tenet of self-care.  Even though I tell people all the time how important self-care is, and to not feel guilty about it, I still end up feeling like the asshole when every fiber of my being wants to sleep and hide away but I also want to be there for someone I love.  Sometimes the choices we face can feel crappy no matter which one you choose.  I had a moment last night where I felt paralyzed because the logical part of me knew I needed to take care of myself, but the emotional part of me felt guilty beyond description.  I was HALTing, without question, and I knew it.  I was blessed that my family made the decision for me because no matter how much my logical brain knew what I needed to do, I was completely incapable of making that decision.  

My point is, I'm not perfect.  We often get this idea that our therapist has all the answers, that they have it all together.  Heck, I even fall prey to the notion at times, feeling like an idiot and a fraud when I have a bad day and make all the wrong choices.  But the reality is I'm just human, just like you.  I pride myself on being real, and as a feminist therapist I acknowledge my humanity with my clients, because it doesn't do anyone good to pretend that I'm perfect.  So you should know that I'm not perfect.  None of us are.  Whether or you are one of my clients or you see another therapist, remember they aren't perfect either.  I fuck up just like everyone else.  I don't always know what to say or do.  Sometimes I know but I still don't do it.  I know that sometimes it's easier said than done.  I know that sometimes I'm going to give you suggestions and know that you aren't going to follow them, because sometimes I don't even follow them.  I don't judge anyone for making mistakes or choosing the unhealthy path.  I do it too sometimes.  Cause it's hard.  It's really fucking hard sometimes.

AHCA...otherwise known as A Heaping Crap-pile of Anti-Womenism

I'm not going to sugar coat this.  I'm livid.  Like, there are no words to explain what I am feeling.  When I'm at work, I'm in a bubble, I don't generally have time to check emails or look at the news or anything.  But I happened to have just a couple of minutes before my 6pm client came so I decided to quickly flip through my emails to clear out any junk so that I could get straight to the important stuff once my appointments were done.  And then I saw a subject line that made my heart sink, my entire body went numb, and I felt like I might cry or have a panic attack or both.

I see this email from the American Psychological Association government relations chapter, and the title read, "American Health Care Act Passed in the House of Representatives."  And then I notice the dozen other emails from other legislative and activism groups I stay abreast of, and I honestly felt in shock.  When I was young, of course I had no concept of the ins and outs of health insurance.  Even into my early 20's, it never dawned on me the importance of it or how it worked.  I always had health insurance from my parents.  I could go to my college's counseling center or health center if I needed anything.  When I was licensed and went into private practice, there was no "benefits package" that included health care.  I was young, I was healthy, I didn't need to worry about that stuff.  In my late 20's, I finally contacted an insurance broker just because I figured it was the "adult" thing to do.  I was denied for some (minor!) preexisting conditions from a few insurances and then finally got some crap coverage, but I figured it wouldn't matter cause I'd never use it.  And then less than a year later, I was diagnosed with cancer.

The world becomes a different place when you suddenly NEED your health insurance or face the possibility of dying.  I remember one month my debit card that I used for my premiums had expired and I didn't realize it cause I thought it came out directly from my bank account.  It had to have been no more than 3 days after my premium was due, I noticed it hadn't hit my account, so I called the company to find out, and they told me my policy was cancelled for non-payment.  I'll never forget the sheer terror I felt in that moment, begging them to reinstate it.  They argued with me, saying I could go through the underwriting process again, which I knew meant an automatic denial since I had cancer.  Due to some divine intervention/stroke of luck, I got them to reinstate, but I remember sitting and bawling on my living room floor, exhausted by the end of it.

Even with the insurance, I accrued massive medical debt because I had a crappy plan.  I would even go to doctor's appointments, and the front desk staff would be looking at the computer with a puzzled look on their face, and then say, "Ok let me check your insurance again cause this can't be right."  They were referring to my coverage, and I had to reassure them every time that no, it was (sadly) correct.  But I couldn't get new insurance because I knew I'd be denied, and I couldn't chance having my policy reevaluated for better coverage because it would go through the underwriting process again, which meant denial.  I ended up filing for bankruptcy a few years later, largely from my medical debt. 

That was all pre-Obamacare.  When I heard President Obama's platform, focusing on healthcare, I was sold immediately.  As I said, you never know what it's like to need health insurance and be terrified of losing it until you go through something like that.  Because of the Affordable Care Act, I was able to change insurances and get better coverage.  I no longer feared going to the doctor solely because of the medical bills.  I didn't have to worry about being denied for things that were beyond my control.  Remember how I said when I first applied for insurance and was denied several times?  It was because of two things, the first being depression, even though it was completely controlled by medication and I wasn't experiencing any symptoms.  But because I had once been diagnosed with depression (which was partially genetic), I was automatically denied.  The second reason was because I had HPV, which I contracted from a rape.  I won't even go into all the ramifications of that because that would be a whole blog post on its own, but I was being judged and denied because of something that was forced onto me against my will.  That denial felt like rape all over again.

I was scared when the AHCA was first proposed, although I heard enough chatter to feel somewhat confidant that it wouldn't be approved, and I was immensely relieved when they pulled it from a vote due to a lack of support.  I naively thought that would be the end of that for at least awhile, maybe a year or more.  When I saw that email, it felt like my world was turned upside down.  Did you know part of the revisions they added to it was reinstating denials for preexisting conditions?  And guess what makes the list of "preexisting conditions"...having been raped, domestic abuse, PTSD, depression.  They also have made it so mental health coverage is no longer mandatory.  And this is just the tip of the iceberg.

I'm so deeply disturbed on so many levels.  Personally, I'm terrified for my own health, losing health coverage and going into medical bankruptcy again.  Professionally, I'm angry knowing that millions of Americans may no longer have access to therapy when they desperately need it, and I'm honestly scared of what impact it would have on my business.  Morally, I'm outraged by the audacity of white, male privilege that dictated the conditions of MY medical and mental health treatment.

Saying I'm angry doesn't cover it.  I feel scared and helpless, but I'm trying to remember that I'm not helpless, that I have some power here.  It still has to go to the Senate for approval, so that means we have time to fight back.  Please, if my story struck a nerve, if it moved you, if you have a story of your own...fight back.  Contact your senators, you can find out how by going to https://www.usa.gov/elected-officials and looking up your state.  Call 844-USA-0234to be connected to members of Congress.  Text "RESIST" to 50409 for an automated text service that will generate letters to your Senators and US Representatives detailing your specific opinions.  And if you think your one phone call or one email or one letter doesn't matter, political officials actually multiple every form of contact by 10, meaning that every time you leave one message for them, they assume 10 constituents hold that same opinion.  So it's not just one voice, it's ten voices.  And believe me, that adds up. 

Please.  Do something.  Make a difference.  Fight back.  I hope none of you ever have to go through what I have, and fighting this bill can mean you may never have to.  Your children may never have to.  We shouldn't have to choose our medical and mental health based on money.

Oxygen mask theory

So I'm out of the office this week, and as I notified each of my clients most of them made comments hoping that I was having a relaxing week off.  Truth be told, it's not a relaxing week whatsoever, but it's still fun.  See, in my "spare" time I'm a basketball fanatic.  More specifically, I'm a UNLV fan to the core.  I grew up watching UNLV, my nephew plays basketball, and everyone in my family has been involved in doing the statistics for UNLV men and women's basketball.  My dad was the one who started working stats for them, and over time he became in charge of the stat crew and hired my mom, my sisters, and myself (gotta love nepotism!).  I was the only one out of my sisters that really stuck with it, eventually becoming in charge of the stat crew once my dad retired.  I've been doing it for 23 years now, and I absolutely love it.  That doesn't mean, however, that it's relaxing.  I've been working the conference tournament for nearly as long as I've been working basketball, first with the Big West conference, then the WAC, and now the Mountain West.  I used to do the stats but now just volunteer with media relations, working in various capacities.  And yes, I said volunteer...I don't get paid, that's how much I love doing it (I get paid by UNLV during the regular season but I volunteer with the MWC for the tournament).  But it's long hours, I'm on my feet and walking all around the arena the entire day, I don't see daylight or get fresh air from 10am (ish) to 10pm (ish), sometimes even as late as midnight.  The food isn't all that great.  The days run together.  But as I said, I love it and wouldn't trade it for the world.  However, I've learned the hard way that no matter how much you might love something, it can still wear on you and you have to learn self-care, you have to put yourself first.  That's not selfishness.  That's self-preservation.  I call it "oxygen mask theory."  When you're on a plane and the flight attendants are giving their schpiel, when they talk about what you should do if they lose cabin pressure and the oxygen masks drop down, what do they say?  "Put yours on first and then help others than need assistance."  Self-care.  But everyone has different self-care needs, and it's important to know what yours are.  For me, it's sleep.  It's always been sleep for me, but it's become noticeably more so since I was diagnosed with cancer and had surgery and radiation.  If I don't get 8 hours of sleep each night, I notice a very clear difference.  If I get less than 6 hours, I start to feel ill.  If I have 2 days in a row of less than 6 hours, I might as well call in sick...I'm in (literal) physical pain, nauseous, I can't think straight, I experience depersonalization & derealization, and I'm definitely more emotional.  So when I work this tournament each year, as much as I love doing it, I have to be extremely cautious with my self-care.  I tend to want to come home and veg out to some TV shows, but if I do that, I'm sacrificing sleep.  If my friends want me to meet up with them for a drink or some food, I have to be cognizant enough to say no, no matter how much I may want to.  In America we are so fast-paced, goal-oriented, achievement-driven.  That's why our nation is so powerful in this world, but I feel like it's also why we suffer so many illnesses.  Nearly every single client who sits in my office has talked about struggling with self-care.  They have a hard time putting themselves first, they think that makes them selfish.  Again and again I teach the value of taking care of ourselves, giving permission to them to put their needs first, and telling them to give themselves that same permission.  So during this week while I'm having fun but also focusing on self-care, ask yourself how often you put yourself first or how often you defer your own self-care needs in order to achieve a goal or take care of someone else.  And start thinking about and discovering what your self-care rituals are.  I'd love to hear from all of you what they are, or what struggles you find in implementing self-care.  But always remember...put your oxygen mask on first.

The Female Phenomenon

I love to write.  When I was a littlegirl, I used to write my own "books."  My mom still has one that I wrote (and illustrated!) about a leprechaun who had a pot of gold.  As I got older, I kept writing, and thankfully, my skills improved and the "stories" became more meaningful.  My first memory was being abused at age 3, so every memory afterwards was tainted with this confusion and pain, and writing (among other things and creative pursuits) became my "therapy."  I wrote this piece almost 15 years ago when I was taking an intensive, full-impact self-defense class.  I remember how empowered I felt then, not just through taking the class (which btw is probably one of the most empowering things I've ever done, and I plan on opening my own chapter here in Vegas as part of CTA...more on that later), but also in naming the internal struggle I was going through and that most women I know go through.  I shared it with the class, and I was honored to have them publish it in their training book they gave to students (I've always toyed around with the idea of submitting a book of my poetry to a publisher).  I find this piece is no less powerful today in it's message.


The Female Phenomenon

There are some days
I don’t believe the things he says
Has happened to him
Because I don’t want to believe
Something that horrible
Has happened to someone I love.
But then I remember
That things that horrible
Have happened to me
And I can believe them
Because some days
I don’t love myself.

I thought for a long time
After that epiphany
Sitting in self-loathing
And feeling sad.
Maybe that’s why I cried in the circle
Looking at all the strong women around me
And knowing that
They defeat themselves too
On occasion.
That’s the culture we live in
Teaching us that women don’t have power sometimes.
All the time.
I don’t really know some days.
Some days I hate myself
Feel dirty
And that’s sad.
Ridiculous I even need to point that out
But sadly enough not everyone recognizes that
And so I say it again
That is sad
Sad that some days I hate myself
I don’t know why I hate myself
Just sometimes I feel like I should.
I look at myself
And think, “I’m not perfect”
And I think I should hate that about myself
Rather than embrace it.
On some days I think of myself
As a victim
Rather than a survivor.
And when I do
I blame myself
Because that’s what victims do
And that’s what people do to victims.
We blame the victim
Tell her we would have done something different
Because we are scared ourselves
Of the what ifs.
What if it had been us.
Question her actions
Why did you wear that?
Why did you drink so much?
Why did you go into the bedroom with him?
Why didn’t you scream more?

Why did you stay with him for three and a half years?

It’s all too familiar
It’s all too easy to blame
Because she’ll go along with it
Blame herself
Because at three years old
She thinks she should’ve known to say no.
On some days I try
And I remember I’m a survivor
Someone worth loving.
On those days I remember that
I’ve resigned myself to stop saying "I’m sorry"
I’ve resigned myself to remembering
That if he hurts me
I have every right to hurt him back
And not feel bad about it.
I don’t want to blame myself anymore
Or be blamed because
Of whatever reason they come up with.
I’m a woman
And I can’t change that
Even if I wanted to.
The woman is inside of me
Permeating my words and actions
I’ve been socialized as a woman
Taught I’m inferior
And less than I am.
I’ve been taught not to fight back
And most importantly
To apologize if I do.
I remember being seven years old
Arguing with my best friend
Because she hit me or teased me
And my mom told me to go apologize
Even though it wasn’t my fault.
That’s the mentality I grew up with
The frame of mind
That I should always apologize
Always feel sorry
Even if I did nothing wrong.

Until now.

He asked me if I remembered the moves
And when I said yes
He locked his arm around my throat
And on instinct
I dropped and hit him where he was most vulnerable.
And I didn’t feel bad.
In fact, I just got more angry
When, out of his own instincts,
He recoiled, twisted, and threw me down on the couch.
I backed away from him
Mustered up as much calm as I could
And said in a shaky voice
“Don’t ever throw me again.”
I didn’t apologize
Although he did
Because he thought he was just playing
Thought he would help me remember my techniques.
But he didn’t know
I wasn’t playing
That I don’t do this for fun.
I do it because I’m being realistic.
I sat in that circle that day
Because it dawned on me once again
That this violence we prepare against
Is real
And happens every day.
Every day
Women are beaten.
And then the attacker moves on from her mind
To her body.
This violence on women
Isn’t confined to her body.
The war is greater against her mind.
And that is sad.
I defeat myself
More times than he ever could
And that is sad.

I wish I didn’t have sad days anymore
But I know that the reminder
Keeps me going
Keeps me fighting
So I know in some way
It’s useful.
On those days
I try to clear my mind
And remember my inspiration
The picture burned in my mind
Eighteen women circled
Pulses racing through each other
In a whirlpool.
I glance down
Only for a moment
Because I want my head held high
But the vision of our feet,
Right foot back
Ready to shout no to violence
And yes to power,
That’s the vision I use.

I started this about him
But the sadness permeates
Until I realize it’s all a circle
Just like the eighteen women I use for inspiration
Because one woman might love herself that day
And one woman might not.
But as my own pulse races from arm to arm
Body to body
I feel every one
Every emotion
Until it pulses back to me.
And maybe in that moment
On that day
I’ll feel good.


Sex ed and all its mistakes

I came across this article some time ago and was recently reminded of it.  I've been thinking about what I wanted my next blog post to be, and being reminded of this seemed kismet.  I have focused the large majority of my training on sexual abuse because, as I'm sure at least some people guess or assume, I was sexually assaulted.  Heck, I am one of three daughters, so with my mother included in the math, you can reasonably assume one of us was since 1 out of 4 women are sexually assaulted in their lifetime.  For me, it was at 3 years old, and then again at 19, and again at 20.  Every 98 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted.  Every 8 minutes, that victim is a child.  And meanwhile, only 6 out of every 1,000 perpetrators will end up in prison (www.rainn.org/statistics).  Multiple studies have shown higher rates of revictimization if you are sexually abused as a child.  I don't know about you, but all of those statistics make me sick.  But I'm not here to talk about the statistics, or my assault history, or the legal/social/moral injustices in this world when it comes to rape and sexual assault (that will come in another post at some time, I'm sure).  The reason I even bring it up is because I believe so much of this problem can be traced back to, or solved by, sexual education.  I'm not saying anything here that is new or hasn't been said before.  We tell our daughters to watch out, to stay aware, don't drink too much, don't wear revealing clothing, learn self-defense, carry mace, etc. etc. etc.  But we are not the problem.  We aren't luring the men in just so we can say no.  Now don't get me wrong, just because the majority of sexual offenders are male does not mean the majority of men are sexual offenders.  Unfortunately, sex offenders give men a bad name, unfairly.  But nevertheless, the reality exists that we live in a rape culture that is largely perpetrated by men because of a lack of honest and real education.  This program in Canada, Wiseguyz, is teaching middle school-age boys the real facts about sex.  They talk about masturbation, pornography, myths, consent, even homophobia and same-sex curiousity.  They confront topics like masculinity and the hyper-sexualization of women in the media.  The discuss what healthy relationships look like and what emotional abuse looks like too.  These boys get to ask questions and share their thoughts and learn what sex should be...pleasurable, loving, consensual.  When I was a little girl I was introduced to the world of sex long before I should have been.  But it was never talked about.  I don't blame my parents, although I did for awhile, but I understand now that they were doing what they thought was right, that was how it was back then.  They thought I didn't remember, and even as I was hitting puberty, that type of honest communication just wasn't something that occurred in our family.  I had to learn about sex in my own way, and goddess knows I definitely fumbled my way through it.  I knew the basics of STDs and birth control, but I knew nothing of pleasure, of communicating my wants and needs to my partner, of what was "normal" or not.  I applaud Blake Spence for creating Wiseguyz, and I wish we had similar programs here in America.  For such a "forward-thinking" nation, we really are ass backwards in some things.

Reasons and excuses

A client recently asked me about consequences for their child, as the child is going through a hard time and they don't want to make it worse.  This is something I've encountered a lot, and I always break it down like this.  I always tell my clients that there's a difference between a reason and an excuse.  Take, for example, a child in foster care who was taken from their home because their parents physically abused them.  The child is acting out, hitting, yelling, not following rules, etc.  It's completely understandable why they are doing that, they are scared, hurt, missing their family, mimicking what they have seen.  We can understand the reason for their behavior.  However, it doesn't give them an excuse to do anything they want.  They don't just get a free pass to do whatever and not get in trouble.  That child still needs to learn healthy behavior and coping skills, or else we are bound to find ourselves in the same position 20 years later, this time with their own child in foster care.  You still need to set rules and consequences for a child no matter what difficulties they are confronting.  Kids learn very quickly how to manipulate, and it gets harder and harder to correct that behavior the longer it goes on.  If a child starts to realize that s/he can get away with poor behavior as long as s/he makes a disparaging comment about himself/herself, threatens suicide or self-harm, or even cause a bigger fuss so that the parent will want to give in so the child calms down, then s/he will soon learn to use that to his/her advantage, whether s/he actually feels that way or not. 

However, it's still helpful to understand the reason for someone's behavior because it may inform your decision of how to consequence an action.  You can still find appropriate ways to discipline while being mindful of the child's feelings.  The biggest thing is to not bring emotion into it yourself.  By that, I mean, never give out a punishment out of anger, it should be matter-of-fact, clear cut, straightforward rules and consequences.  Remember, when we discipline our children, we are teaching them rules and laws of the world so they can function appropriately as an adult.  If you get into an argument with another child and hit them, you might get a time out or have something taken away for a period; however, if the same thing happens as an adult, you could be arrested.  So when you discipline your child, remind him/her that s/he's not in trouble because you are angry and don't love him/her anymore, but that s/he has to learn appropriate behavior now while the consequences are much smaller.  Remind him/her that you still love him/her and s/he's still a wonderful child, s/he's not a bad person but just made a bad decision that you want him/her to learn from.