Looking behind, looking ahead.

Looking behind, looking ahead.

The new year explodes with expectation, hope, pain and regret, and wishes for the future- a chance to "erase" the problems of our past year and move on. But without making space for reflection and an honest look at our accomplishments and mistakes, we can become prisoners to our own rigid expectations.

There are ways to remain focused, yet flexible.

You can turn your attention to what you already love about yourself, and want to love more about yourself. This doesn't mean ignoring your pain, but it does mean making room for all of you.

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On Healthy and Fulfilling Relationships

“Lovers embrace that which is between them, rather than each other.” – Kahlil Gibran

even just a small impromptu note from one friend to another can remind you why you are connected to each other.

even just a small impromptu note from one friend to another can remind you why you are connected to each other.

Being in relationship with another person is a complex and deeply personal experience. Sometimes you may feel completely in sync with them, while other times you might feel disconnected, out of touch, and even hurt. Relationships can be fraught and they can be smooth; since we don’t really have much (okay, ANY) control over other people, when we become willing to risk being hurt in order to get the benefits of being connected, a lot of unexpected emotional stuff can come up.

When it comes to relationships, there are layers about the other person(s), as well as things that exist between you, that can feel very difficult to untangle from your own relationship with yourself. We spend much of our childhood taking in the expectations of others around us. Often, we feel the power of others “naming” us, both literally (our parents usually give us our names) and figuratively (“You are so picky at dinner!”), which can seem like the truth when we’re so young. As we grow older, the people around us may change, but the messages from childhood remain, and influence how we relate to the world and the people we’re close to.

So let's try on the possibility that what can help us have more fulfilling relationships is to embrace that which is between us as well as each other and ourselves. The best way to start feeling fulfilled and healthy in your relationships is to learn what it's like to feel fulfilled and healthy with yourself. Learning how not to be afraid of yourself, how to listen to yourself, how not to hide things away from yourself-- all of this can help you feel connected to you, and this will radiate through into your relationships with others. If you’re critical or intolerant of yourself, you’ll probably be critical and intolerant of others. If you cut off or ignore parts of yourself, you’ll probably cut off or ignore parts of others. If you allow yourself enough grace, enough forgiveness, enough space to allow yourself to be fully who you are, you will be able to do the same for the people you love. You’ll become one of those people you love. And that’s the key to all of it.

Here are some questions that might help you think about how you respond to people you love in situations where you’re triggered. Since these questions might evoke somatic or unconscious responses, it might be easier to think about them as you walk, or talk them through out loud with your therapist or confidant. Journaling in a free-flowing and non-judgmental way can also help you sit with some of the more uncomfortable feelings that might come up. I also suggest you pay attention to your dreams in the next few days, noticing places where you have interactions with people, where you feel safe, and where you feel scared.

What happens to you when you’ve had a rough day? When you’re preoccupied with something, like the interaction you had with someone in the grocery checkout line or a pending situation at work that you feel unsettled about- how do those feelings leak through into your interactions with people close to you? How do you respond when your partner is irritable, shows their vulnerability, or closes off? These are all micro-interactions that occur constantly between people, and it’s really easy to get caught in the emotional web of our expectations, fears, wishes, needs, and triggers and forget how to think together, and share together with another person. Noting when these happen for you can help you create a little more room for yourself when you’re feeling caught up in these emotions.

And: Who are you connected to in your life? How do you feel when you’re with them? Do you sometimes wish you could be alone, and not need other people, because maybe it’s safer that way? How do you, or could you, balance alone time with connected time? How can you find ways to be yourself in all the relationships you consider meaningful? What relationships might need to change if you were to feel more comfortable in them, and how might they change? How might you need to change to be more flexible in your relationships- or more boundaried?

Learning to Love (and listen to!) Your Body

Keith Haring, "Untitled," 1985. Feeling pulled in many directions? Learning to love your body might help!

Keith Haring, "Untitled," 1985. Feeling pulled in many directions? Learning to love your body might help!

The Learning to Love Your Body group is kicking off this weekend, and I’ve got some pre-work for people who are registered and signed up. But in case you’re wanting a taste of what this group is about, I’ve decided to share it here so that you can feel fed and engaged by the possibility of living a life where you cherish, love, listen to, and enjoy your body.

First, have you seen Jes Baker’s talk about the Social Impact of Body Love on Everyday Feminism? If you haven’t, take a look here. We’ll be talking about this video on day two of the group, but it’s so ripe with content that it’s worth watching a few times over. Some of the statistics might surprise you. (Did you know that 81% of 10-year-olds are afraid of being fat? And that they’re more afraid of being fat than they are of cancer, war, or losing both their parents?) Jes Baker also has an awesome blog at www.themilitantbaker.com.

Next, I’m encouraging everyone to purchase or borrow a copy of Embody by Connie Sobczak. I’ll be using some of the exercises from this book in our group, and we’ll be reading passages from the five Core Competencies of the Be Body Positive model. We’ll start with learning how to Reclaim Health, meaning, how to live in a way that prioritizes a holistic view of health with you as the expert of your body. Practicing intuitive self-care, cultivating self-love, declaring your own authentic beauty, and building community are the remaining competencies, and we will explore how to integrate these in your life in the Learning to Love Your Body group.

Finally, here is a set of questions to get you started on the path toward learning to love—and listen to—your body!

Start by finding, borrowing, buying, or making a journal. Think about your answers to these questions and write down your responses. Take as much time as you like and be as messy and incoherent as you wish. Nobody will read this except you. We'll talk more about these ideas and will have more time to explore them in person, but to get your mind working, try these on:

1. What kind of messages have I received about my body throughout my life? Where do they come from? What do I believe about my body and other people’s bodies?

2. What do I wish I felt about my body? If I felt free enough to be in love with my body, how would I know? What would be different in my life if I felt more love for myself and listened to myself?

3. What might be blocking me from loving my body and living fully in my life?

If you’re not planning on participating in the group, or not able to make it in person, try this exercise with a friend or two. When you set into your intentions and allow your creative self to come forward, you might like to light a candle and some sage, juniper, or copal, and carve out about 20-30 minutes to write in silence. If you and some friends sit down to do this together, try setting your individual intentions out loud with each other in just a few words, and then when you’re finished writing, share what your process has been and what you have learned from responding to the prompts.

If you'd like to learn more and see a video where I describe more in-depth the intention and practice of the group, visit my page Body Love Group. You can also call me at 510-594-4035 or send me an email at therapy@mollymerson.com . I look forward to hearing from you!

To cite this page:Merson, M. (2015) Learning to Love (and listend to!) Your Body. Retrieved month/day/year from http://mollymerson.com/2015/02/02/learning-to-love-and-listen-to-your-body/. Please note that this column is not intended to treat, diagnose, or prevent any disease. This post is for entertainment and informational purposes only. I do not offer advice to people whom I do not know and whom I am not currently treating in my practice, and even then, it is not a general practice for me to offer advice to my clients as their decisions are their own to make. If you are in need of mental health support, please seek out a licensed professional to begin ongoing therapeutic treatment.

Intention Setting: Three Journal Prompts

There is something about intention setting and new year reflections that requests a video blog in addition to a written piece. In this video, I talk about getting comfortable with uncomfortable feelings, about reflections, and about creating space within yourself for light, warmth, and manifesting your own creative spirit. Just like in a written blog, these prompts I offer are meant as starting points for a deeper process with your therapist, mentor, community, or spiritual guide to help you understand where your creative self can flourish and how you may be holding yourself back from what’s right for you in your life.

In case you are unable to play the video, here is a synopsis, including the prompts:

Reflections can be done at any significant moment in your life, including the New Year, either solstice, birthdays, or – a very profound experience – on death days. When someone who has been a guide or mentor to you has passed, it can be very meaningful to reflect on your year with that person’s wisdom in mind. They can help you see what you’ve accomplished and where you’re headed, and perhaps offer a redirect for you as well, if that’s something you’re looking for.

For this exercise, get comfortable and give yourself enough space mentally and obligation-wise to focus on journaling. Grab a pillow, blanket, cup of tea—and a candle (if you have one), matches, and a pen and paper. We will be doing a bit of journaling right now.

Light your candle, get situated, and get ready to write!

First prompt: What are 10 events or situations that have been significant to you in the past year? People you’ve met or lost, relationships, events, lessons, anything that stands out to you as a growth point. Whatever comes to your mind is probably what can go on this list, as well as things you remember later on, spurred by this exercise. Give each person/event/experience its own line, and spend time meditating on what was significant about them for you.

Second prompt: What would you like to see manifest in the new year? What wish, vision, and intention is inside of you itching to be set free and come alive? What would you like to create in the coming year? When you find yourself sitting here, this time next year—what goes on that “10 Significant Situations” list?

Third prompt: What limits you? What do you feel is holding you back? What would you be doing if you felt like you were good enough and capable enough? Where can you offer more love, gratitude, patience, and compassion for yourself? What do you need in your life to help you manifest the wishes and dreams that you discovered in the second prompt? **I would add here, which I neglected in the video: In addition to working on offering love, gratitude, and compassion to yourself, where can you offer this to the world and your community? How can you help your community flourish and manifest the visions that benefit us all? This is by no means exclusive of growing, cherishing, and developing yourself. These go hand-in-hand.

Life is full of surprises. We spend so much of our life dealing with what is right in front of us, and it can be challenging to find time for reflection. You have chosen this time, whenever it may be, to reflect and honor where you are and how you got to be here, as well as were you dream to go. In doing so, you are offering something beautiful, loving, and wonderful to yourself that will help you step into the unexpected that this new year will bring with grace and compassion.

To cite this page: Merson, M. (2014) Intention Setting: Three Journal Prompts. Retrieved month/day/year from http://mollymerson.com/2014/12/26/intention-setting-three-journal-prompts/. Please note that this column is not intended to treat, diagnose, or prevent any disease. This post is for entertainment and informational purposes only. I do not purport to offer advice to people whom I do not know and whom I am not currently treating in my practice, and even then, it is not a general practice for me to offer advice to my clients as their decisions are their own to make. If you are in need of mental health support, please seek out a licensed professional to begin ongoing therapeutic treatment.

You Are Enough: Finding Yourself In Nature

going up, up, up... into your ancestral wisdom. "we are all made of starstuff," says Carl Sagan including the trees.

going up, up, up... into your ancestral wisdom. "we are all made of starstuff," says Carl Sagan including the trees.

We already have everything we need. There is no need for self-improvement. All these trips that we lay on ourselves—the heavy-duty fearing that we’re bad and hoping that we’re good, the identities that we so dearly cling to, the rage, the jealousy and the addictions of all kinds—never touch our basic wealth. They are like clouds that temporarily block the sun. But all the time our warmth and brilliance are right here. This is who we really are. We are one blink of an eye away from being fully awake.” ~ Pema Chödrön, Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living

When I read this quotation this morning, I thought about how many of the people I see in my practice struggle with how to feel as though they are “enough.” We seem to know that self-love, compassion, and abundance is part of the healing process, but it can hard for many of us to believe that we already have everything we need to live authentically and fully as ourselves. I believe it really is possible to cultivate compassion for ourselves and the people we love, and having contact with nature can help.

Studies have shown that access to greenery and the natural world can expedite illness recovery, improve mental health, and regulate our autonomic nervous system (the system which controls our responses to unsafe and stressful situations). When you are feeling stress, anxiety, sorrow, anger, and other uncomfortable emotions, spending even 20 minutes in nature can help those emotions pass through you. When we pay attention to the natural world and its patterns of abundance, and allow the sounds, smells, textures, and shapes of nature to settle inside of our bodies, we can find reminders that every mood and difficult thought will pass, and something new will take its place.

Most of us who live in cities find our access to natural spaces exists within urban environments. Urban parks and gardens, and perhaps even the old tree in your neighbor’s front yard, can provide healing experiences. In the Bay Area, we have ample access to natural spaces—in the East Bay, we have Wildcat Canyon, Tilden Park, Redwood Regional Park, Chabot—there are so many places where you can find an hour or so of being in the natural world. Depending on what time of day you go, it is even possible to rarely see another human being. Additionally, if your mobility is limited, there is no need to walk: Staying in one natural place for 15-20 minutes can have a profound effect on your nervous system, and can help you find answers to questions you might have on your mind.

Here are more ways to allow nature to heal you:

  1. Start with an intention. In the beginning you may just want to focus on getting to know what happens for you when you are in nature. At first, your intention might be “notice my breathing” or “what colors and smells do I notice today?” Over time, you might bring a question or problem that’s on your mind, and let yourself be open to what the environment shows you along the way. You might often go back to simply “noticing,” because it can allow you to be even more open to the delightful curiosities of critters and landscape that you might otherwise be too focused to see. You might even discover something you could never have expected!
  2. Walk slowly and mindfully. Be aware of your breath, and as you walk, slowly become aware of the sounds, smells, shapes, shadows, sensations of heat and coolness, the texture of the path on your feet, what you notice in front of you and in your peripheral vision. If you wish, stop from time to time and allow sounds other than the crunching of your feet to be heard.
  3. If you find a spot you really feel connected to, stop walking and stay a while. Try not to worry about how much time you have, and about “getting somewhere.” If you find a spot that calls to you, you have already arrived. Stay here, if you can. It can take the natural world a good 20 or 30 minutes to return to how it was before you walked through, so expect new sounds and sensations to unfold the longer you allow yourself to stay.
  4. If you come across a tree that you especially love, touch it with both hands, and take three long and deep breaths with the tree. Try to feel its power, its strength, its longevity. It has probably been here for a very long time, and has seen a lot in those years. It plants its roots firmly while stretching its branches to the sky. There are a lot of metaphors to be found in trees. Perhaps you will notice something in the tree that can help you today.
  5. Look at both the macro and the micro. Notice the distance, the shapes on the horizon, the path ahead. Then, notice the roly-poly bugs, the ants, the pine needles on the ground, the birds and lizards moving through the periphery. Stop a while and notice what the bugs are doing, and how the patterns of the lichen form shapes in their movement and growth up the trees and rocks. Also notice how spectacular your long distance view is. Now: Notice that you, breathing, feeling, and seeing, are between these two places. You can contact both the long view and the short view. Breathe this in, and try to imagine this spaciousness entering into your lungs, your belly, your legs, your feet, your back, and your head.

Allow yourself to be open to being delighted by the unexpected, and to being awakened by the pace and interconnectedness of the natural world. Nature offers a reminder that you are enough, because our bodies are the same bodies we feel in the trees and in the rocks and critters, all held by the same earth. You are enough, and you are connected to something bigger than you.

More on Ecotherapy here: What is Ecotherapy?, Holos Institute, and Ecoutearth. Ecoutearth is a local group in the East Bay that offers monthly meetings at Redwood park to offer ways of listening to the earth and to your own heart. My training in Ecotherapy has come from Jan Stein, who is the Director of the Holos Insitutue and offers courses at CIIS.

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I provide therapy in Berkeley, CA to individuals looking to delve into old patterns, explore overwhelming emotions, and find room for self-love and self-care amidst a harsh and unforgiving inner critic.

To cite this page:Merson, M. (2014) You Are Enough: Finding Yourself In Nature. Retrieved month/day/year from http://mollymerson.com/2014/10/30/you-are-enough-finding-yourself-in-nature/. Please note that this column is not intended to treat, diagnose, or prevent any disease. This post is for entertainment and informational purposes only. I do not purport to offer advice to people whom I do not know and whom I am not currently treating in my practice, and even then, it is not a general practice for me to offer advice to my clients as their decisions are their own to make. If you are in need of mental health support, please seek out a licensed professional to begin ongoing therapeutic treatment.

Asking Friends for Relationship Advice? Here's More.

Relationships are as unique and personal as the people in them. In the course of a lifetime, they are always starting, shifting, growing, retracting, and redefining themselves. Even ending a relationship leaves shadows of your former lover that can continue to touch you in the most unexpected circumstances. Given that most of us (though not all) desire relationships, we still feel like there are things we know and don’t know about what makes a relationship solid.

I polled a few people on social media for some advice from their personal experience about what makes for a kind of relationship they are willing to work for, and was fascinated by the diversity of experience, as well as the common threads. 

1. “Do not, under any circumstances, take my advice,” “Don’t do it,” and “Don’t listen to me” made me laugh, but also deeply resonated. We seem to feel that if we aren’t in the perfect relationship, or have had a history of things “not working out,” that we are less-than in terms of what we know about relating. This just isn’t true. Relationships are full of risk, and sometimes when they don’t work out we do the most learning about who we really are, if we allow ourselves to stay with the vulnerability of the feelings we have. Likewise, avoiding relationships can mean staying safe and protecting your heart, and there is nothing wrong with choosing your own safety and security over the risk of intimacy. That said, if you feel as though taking the “safer” path is causing feelings of isolation and depression, you might not actually feel as good about being alone as you think you do. This is a good time to talk to your therapist about the tension between the parts of you that want to stay “safe” and the parts of you that want to feel intimacy and connection.

2. "Be happy instead of right.” “Keep up the sex and the appreciation.” “Communicate honestly and often.” “Two things: No one else is responsible for your happiness, and never stop courting each other.” “Listen, especially when it's hard to do so.” All of these seem to speak to being grateful for and appreciative toward your partner(s). It’s said that showing gratitude and appreciation for someone else actually increases your own gratitude and appreciation for yourself. Growing your self-love while in relationship can also help you stay engaged and connected, and can help you work through disappointments when your needs are not met. 

3. "Take the time to have the uncomfortable conversations. Articulate and follow through on bettering yourself in the relationship. And maintain a healthy sex life by adhering to a GGG (Good, Giving, Game) mentality. And find someone with whom you can mutually grow and evolve.” This makes me think about how both (or all, if in a non-monogamous relationship) people need to be fully invested in the relationship to allow it to take shape and be an element of support in each person’s life. “Bettering yourself” in the relationship takes time and direct communication about what each person needs from the other, and an understanding of what’s yours to deal with and what’s your partner’s to work on. Sex can mean putting your body and your well-being into someone else’s hands (literally and figuratively). Consent means knowing, naming, and being respected for your limits, boundaries, and needs. It means listening deeply to your partner(s) and responding to their needs, limits, and boundaries. In this way, sex (whatever sex means and looks like to you) is excellent practice for deepening the trust in your relationship.

4. “Have shared values and interests. Be committed to being accepting, affectionate, considerate, kind and communicative and expect the same from anyone you date. Don't accept anything less. Don't give anything less. Don't date someone you want to change. Physical chemistry is important; it should be as much a priority as those other things.” I really feel like this piece of advice is about valuing yourself. Know what you need and want, and know that you are worth it. When you believe in your own worth and value, there is room to trust yourself to make the right decisions in the moment.  In Katherine Woodward Thomas’s book Calling In The One, she writes that in order for you to bring the right person into your life, you must make space in your life for them. “There is a huge chasm between wanting to find your ideal partner and being truly available for that partner when he or she [or ze, or they] appears,” she says. Make it a practice of getting to know yourself, and there will be more room for another person to step in there with you if you want them to.

5. “Listen, be kind, be open to growing together as well as individually. Laugh together. Make time for each other and the relationship. Recognize that there is you, the other person, and the relationship - all separate entities, but interconnected. Seek first to understand and then to be understood.” The last line in this advice is worth highlighting again and again: When we are overwhelmed, we shut down. When we shut down, we can’t listen. When we can’t listen, we can’t understand. When we can’t understand, we can’t connect. So this idea of seeking to understand first—even if you think you’re right, and the other person is wrong, setting that down for just long enough to try your best to understand your partner(s) will actually allow you to start to re-regulate your overwhelm, calm yourself, open your heart, and this practice offers another opportunity for communication rather than a dead-end street.

6. “Your partner is not your parent. They can't anticipate your every need as a mother is with their infant. You have to ask, be vulnerable and share - a lifelong process of loving and caring for each other.” You and your partner(s) may be intensely attuned to each other, but I guarantee you, neither of you can read each other’s minds. Your limbic systems may be aligned and you may have an exquisite sense of body language and verbal cues, but always always always strive to be an active participant in the loving process by sharing and receiving real-time communication.

7. “Have goals as a couple. If at any time your dreams don’t match up, solve the vision issue before moving forward with other relationship milestones. i.e. don't move in with someone who doesn’t share your visions of the future 5, 10 or 15 years from now.”“Have your relationship shit sorted out before you have kids. And don't have kids expecting that to mitigate your relationship shit.” And on the other hand, we have: “Make a baby! It's the best! And twice-weekly therapy for the both of you! And get a housekeeper!” What is your vision for the future? Do you talk about all the gritty, raw, and hard stuff? If you do want, or have, kids- practicing communication will be ever so important with your partner.

8. “This thing people say: "If it’s meant to be, it should be easy"-this is not necessarily true! Great relationships can require some hard work. Find someone you want to do the work with and who is willing to do the work.” Great relationships really are hard work. They aren’t excruciating and they aren’t about sacrificing all of yourself for another person. But if you are really “in it,” all of your old patterns will arise, and all kinds of unexpected situations will present themselves. It’s up to you and your partner(s) to grow your strength together by facing (and caring for) the parts of each other you wouldn’t present to the rest of the world. If the goal is to be with someone who sees and knows and accepts all of you, you have to learn to be comfortable being all of you with that person, and letting the other person be all of themselves with you. Try being vulnerable- pace yourself- and take a risk. You might have a better chance of finding someone with whom you can really, truly get what you need.

Learning To Love Your Body: A Workshop for Self-Love

Are you wishing you could love yourself in a way that makes you feel strong in your own skin?
Are you craving a loving relationship with yourself and your body?
Are you looking for take-home tools to help shed that inner critic?
Do you want to find resources inside you to help you make authentic and informed choices about your life and your needs?

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So much of our lives are spent trying to understand how we fit in to the environment around us. It’s a survival technique, for sure- but as we grow older, we start to realize how detrimental it can be to keep surviving in that way. If we haven’t learned—or have lost along the way—the ability to check in with our bodies and our hearts to discover what really, truly feeds us, we can rely too heavily on the outside world to make our decisions for us. This can lead to exhaustion, overwhelm, intense stress, and feeling like we can’t go on this way. That’s because we can’t, and shouldn’t! It is possible to discover how to deeply listen to yourself, and do so in a way that makes you feel alive and connected.

This group offers a variety of practices to allow a recalibration of your connection to your body in the service of loving yourself and living the life that’s best for you. It is a time to recognize your body as a sacred space that holds vast information about who you are, what you need, and how to stay present with yourself in deep acceptance.

The group is limited to 7 people, all of whom will be interviewed and asked to complete a survey about their interest in the group. We will meet for five Saturday mornings, including one outdoor session, and one Friday night. This will give us a chance to practice our work at different times of day, so that you can identify how your body feels during the day, evening, and in different environments. We will have check-ins and some process around our explorations, and journaling will be encouraged. Some of the exercises will include: guided visualizations, a meditation guide from Buddhist nun Pema Chodron, collage and vision board creation, and some exercises from the recommended reading, “Embody” by Connie Sobczak. During our outdoor session we will conduct a “walk + write”, where we’ll gather together, state our intentions, and be guided through an ecotherapeutic understanding of connecting with nature. We’ll have the rest of the session to wander through (or stay still within) the natural space and write our sensations in a journal.

The intention of the group is to support a loving and connected relationship to your body. Your body is always with you at every second of your day, and holds great information for you at all times. Developing this connection with your body will help you grow your self-compassion and self-acceptance, which can be a useful ally in your struggles with a cruel and punitive inner critic. Listening to your body can help guide you to what is right for you in your life.

Dates: Saturdays October 18, November 1, 8, 15, 22 from 10:30-12
Friday October 24 from 5:30-7
(One Saturday will be spent outside in a location TBD for a nature-based “walk + write”)

Location: South Berkeley, CA

Cost: $300 for the series plus $25 for the initial in-person interview

This group welcomes people of all genders, sexual orientations, cultural identities, and body sizes and abilities. The group space is not wheelchair-accessible, therefore another space may be arranged if needed.

Call Molly Merson, MFT for more information about participating in this group. 510-594-4035 or therapy@mollymerson.com

Molly Merson, MA, MFT#52483 is a licensed therapist in Berkeley, CA. She does deep process and in-depth therapy with folks struggling with difficult feelings, inner critic, mood fluctuations, feeling like an outsider, and finding satisfying relationships. Find out more about her at www.mollymerson.com or call 510-594-4035 for information about her work and practice.

Getting to Know the Harder Feelings of Depression and Bipolar Disorder

If you are one of the tens of millions of people who experience clinical depression or bipolar disorder, you probably know what it’s like to feel shitty about yourself, irritable about interactions with others, afraid of what people might think about you, and hopeless about being able to do anything about it. You might also feel angry and frustrated – maybe even a sense of being trapped inside your feelings, with no way out. Suddenly, what was pleasurable feels prickly, and people you may have felt connected to feel distant and irritating, like they “just don’t get you.” Maybe this leads to you wanting to retreat, to isolate, to push people away.

These are extremely hard feelings to bear alone, and yet that’s what depression encourages from you: to break healing connection because you feel, on some level, already disconnected and overwhelmed.

If you take pause in your feelings, either while they’re happening or soon thereafter, you may find you’ve been feeling this way for much of your life—perhaps not in any way you could name, exactly, and maybe you feel this way intermittently—but it’s as familiar to you as it is unfamiliar to people who do not have bipolar disorder or clinical depression. There’s no such thing as “normal,” but there are ways you can manage your depression and negotiate its “hooks” in you. Although the feeling is pervasive and often overwhelming, and it colors the way you see yourself and the world around you, it is possible to get to know it, and give yourself and these feelings the attention you both need.

Go into the feeling, and find where it resonates in your body. Spend some time with this exercise when you feel the irritability and sadness coming on:

1. Lie on your back in a quiet spot, and allow your breathing to settle however it wants to. Find the places your breath settles in your body; notice your chest rise, notice your shoulders, notice the muscles in your face and neck. Just notice, don’t try to change. 2. Allow your breath to explore your body, and notice what it finds. Breathe into different parts of your body: Your chest, your shoulders, your belly, your arms and fingertips, your hips, your back, and with each breath allow an exploration of tightness and resistance to happen. 3. When you find places that feel tight, achey, itchy, or uncomfortable, allow your breath to reach in and touch the tightness; on the out-breath, allow your body to let go. We’re not trying to “get rid” of the tightness or pain, just trying to make room to connect to it. You may spend a few breaths on the tighter parts of your body. 4. When you find these tight or resistant areas, in between your in-breath and out-breath, ask them: What do you need right now? 5. Then ask, How can I help you? 6. It may take some time, and quite a few breaths, to sit with the spots you discover and ask these questions. Just allow your breath to move, notice your pain and tightness, and ask for permission to know it. 7. When you are ready, slowly allow some movement back into your body and allow yourself to come back into the room.

When your awareness and attention have come back into the room, I encourage you to write down any sensation and any feelings you may have. Don’t worry about censoring yourself, just write.

This can be a very evocative exercise for people, and you may find a range of feelings. You may also find that nothing happens, which can also be evocative for some of us. If that’s the case, I encourage you to meditate on the “nothing,” because there is information there, too. Sometimes, “nothing” is a way to protect you from a deep sadness or trauma. Processing this experience in therapy can sometimes feel safer than doing it on your own, so I encourage you to bring your feelings about this exercise to your therapist, who can help you sit with things that might feel uncomfortable to do on your own.

For more information about depression or bipolar disorder, and to find community who shares these or similar experiences, take a look at The Neurodiversity Paradigm and The Icarus Project. This post is not meant to diagnose, treat, or prevent any disease. To begin therapy with a licensed professional with expertise in many types of mood disorders, give me a call at 510-594-4035 for a free phone consultation. I can point you toward resources that can be helpful to you in this process. It may take at least 24 hours for me to respond to your call, so if you or your loved one are suicidal or in crisis, take it seriously and call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room immediately. If you or your loved one are contemplating suicide, go to http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/ or call 1-800-273-8255 to speak with someone 24 hours a day.

I provid20140801_Molly-216-CLe therapy in Berkeley, CA to individuals looking to delve into old patterns, explore overwhelming emotions, and find room for self-love and self-care amidst a harsh and unforgiving inner critic.

To cite this page: Merson, M. (2014) Getting to Know the Harder Feelings of Depression and Bipolar Disorder. Retrieved month/day/year from http://mollymerson.com/2014/07/26/getting-to-know-the-harder-feelings/

Need accessible self-care in the East Bay?

Self-care is essential for good health and wellness. As individualistic as our culture is, we all carry a significant amount of shame and resistance around taking care of our own spirits, bodies, and minds. Self-care is an excellent complement to psychotherapy, and can help you integrate what you discover in therapy as well as help you learn ways to regulate between sessions. For those of you who are interested in adding self-care into your life, here is a starter list for inexpensive and accessible ways you can help yourself rest, rejuvenate, and rebuild.

(Please note: I don’t get any kickbacks nor do I endorse or guarantee anything about any of these places. You may try them and not have a good experience, or you may really like them. They are listed for self-help purposes only. That said, I hope you find something here you enjoy.)

At home:

-Take a bath with Epsom salts and some lavender or bay laurel essential oil

-Have a hot cup of tea with honey

-Spend 3-5 minutes lying on your back on the floor, close your eyes, and feel your body sink into the ground. Breathe deeply and listen.

-Set aside 30 minutes to collage, draw, or express yourself creatively however it comes to you.

Massage:

National Holistic Institute: NHI is a massage school which offers $35 massages two or three times a day. You don’t get to choose the style you receive, but if you’re feeling open to either Shiatsu or Swedish, it’s an excellent deal.

Acupuncture:

Berkeley Acupuncture Project and Berkeley Community Acupuncture offer community acupuncture from licensed acupuncturists for $15-$40 sliding scale per treatment. Community acupuncture takes place in a room with other people receiving treatment, though you will have your own practitioner and can find a quiet and semi-private spot in the room. In Oakland, you can visit Oakland Acupuncture Project.

Meditation:

East Bay Meditation Center offers free or dana-based meditation, and offers specific meditation nights for LGBTQ and PoC practitioners.

Animals:

If you don't have an animal at home, you can volunteer to walk dogs or play with cats at any number of the shelters in the Bay Area, including Milo Foundation and Berkeley Humane Society. Calm, relaxing time with animals can help increase oxytocin production, which can help relax you and help you let go of stress.

Parks:

Rose Gardens in both Oakland and Berkeley are beautiful places to take in nature in the midst of the city.

Lake Merritt for people and goose watching.

For a bit more nature, check out Redwood Regional Park, and the meditation labyrinth at Briones Regional Park.

Exercise:

The stairs at Lake Merritt: Yowch! You’ll often see people running, jumping, and climbing these stairs. Join them!

Yoga at Yoga To The People is a pay-what-you-can model, and no one is turned away for lack of funds.

Hot Tubs!

Piedmont Springs and Spa offers half-hour and hour-long hot tubs for about $15.

Albany Hot Tubs is also a nice option for a similar price.

 

Any other ideas? What do you like to do to care for yourself between therapy sessions?

 

To cite this page: Merson, M. (2014) Need Accessible Self-Care in the East Bay? Retrieved month/day/year from http://mollymerson.com/2014/06/14/need-accessible-self-care-in-the-east-bay/

 

Understanding Your Inner Critic

When Your Protection Becomes Your Prison: Understanding Your Inner Critic You know those harsh, penetrating thoughts you have-- the ones that haunt you, even when you do something you love? The thoughts that tell you you’re not good enough, that you should “shut up” and “stop thinking you’re all that”, that try to beat you into submission? Yeah, those thoughts. The ones that hurt.

What if I told you those thoughts were actually there to help you?

Let’s consider for a moment that you are a child, and you’re doing something that feels fun. You’re feeling safe, so you play. You’re in “the flow.” Suddenly, someone shouts at you: “Stop doing that!” and takes away the rusty nail you’re about to put down your gullet.

Now, that voice is in you, reminding you: "Don’t eat the rusty nail!" That’s good, right? But it feels scary to be shocked out of that "flow". Let’s say you didn’t have someone there to tell you that you’re going to be ok. We could even go so far as to say, what if the person chided you, or shamed you for wanting to explore the world around you?

Now, that voice has a chance to grow bigger. It grows louder. It makes you wonder: Well, when I was feeling safe and playing, I learned I was bad. Maybe I shouldn’t let my guard down like that.

That harsh inner critic used to be a voice outside of you, but now it's lodged itself inside of you. It's your armor and your guard, after all.

And then, sometime, when you’re feeling safe, and feeling in “the flow”, and you start to let your guard down, the voice that's now deep inside you says, “DON’T!” And you are brought right back in to an anxious, guarded, vigilant place. You might even start feeling really badly about yourself.

You might start to feel like everything you’re curious about is actually bad for you.

But even though your inner critic might be really loud sometimes, you do have inner resources that can help you. Those resources are intertwined with understanding, and offering kindness and relaxation to, that the harsh, overprotective, and now harmful voice. We can find ways to lessen the harshness and add kindness by getting to know what feels scary, overwhelming, and challenging to you.

We all need validation of the parts of us that soar, and because the harsh critical voice often feels like the “true” voice, it can be easier to find yourself in situations where the criticisms are echoed in the people around you. It can also feel very difficult to accept the warm, kind voices, since they can actually have the opposite effect and make the inner critic louder.

What ways have you found to still the inner critic, for even just a moment?

Sometimes, that critic can feel so powerful that the only thing we can do is distract from it. Watching TV, cleaning the bathroom, going for a run, taking a nap—these are all ways we can distract ourselves from perseverating on the harsh inner landscape. Try to notice this process of distracting yourself from the fearful feelings so that you can make it to the other side. If you can spend just a few seconds identifying that that’s what you’re doing, then you’ve begun to offer some space to breathe and begin to allow yourself the option to feel just a little bit differently.

These moments you offer yourself are an important reminder that what you do best is survive. Sometimes, your survival skills can become restrictive and unhelpful, which can perpetrate more criticism and despondency. It is crucial at these times that you remind yourself, however you need to-- post it notes, a loved one, a video of yourself, or a snap of a rubberband on the wrist-- that there is more to your life than just this feeling, and that this feeling thinks it’s doing its job by protecting you. This feeling doesn’t quite get, yet, that it’s hurting you more than it is doing good for you.

But maybe it can learn, with kindness and time, to trust itself again. And, instead of protecting you, maybe together you both will learn that you deserve to explore, to discover what’s thrilling to you, to try on new things, and to take risks in places that could be healing and delicious for you.

Maybe, paying attention to this harsh, critical part of you will be just the thing to help you unlock what is healing, soothing, and reparative for you. Paying attention to the painful stuff may just be the way to open up new possibilities for you of how you relate to yourself and your world.

For more on letting go and noticing your patterns, I recommend listening to any of Pema Chödrön’s talks, which can be found on the Shambhala Press website. If you are interested in contacting your difficult feelings and attending to your inner critic, I encourage you to call me at 510-594-4035 to talk about how therapy with me could help you understand and work with some of the harshness of your protective self. I provide depth psychotherapy in Berkeley, CA. This piece is not intended to treat, diagnose, prevent, or cure any disease, and is not intended to provide psychotherapeutic treatment to anyone who reads or interacts with it.

To cite this page: Merson, M. (2014) When Your Protection Becomes Your Prison: Understanding Your Inner Critic. Retrieved month/day/year from http://mollymerson.com/2014/04/23/understanding-your-inner-critic/