DO YOU NEED YOUR THERAPIST TO BE HUMAN?

robot“I can’t work with someone who’s broken,” he said calmly.

The young man had just read my Disclosure, a description of rights that, as a Marriage & Family Therapist, I’m legally required to give all clients.  Although it isn’t necessary, my Disclosure also relates that I have multiple sclerosis; I don’t want clients to wonder whether my stumbling is about a liquid lunch.

Broken, he said.  BrokenI never imagine anyone thinking of me as “damaged” – hell, even in my most self-pitying moments I don’t think of myself in that way. 

I was temporarily speechless; did he really say that? 

“Tell you what,” I said when I was sure my response wouldn’t betray my hurt, “think about it until next time.”  Then I went home and cried.

At our final session he admitted what had evidently been in his mind for the three months we worked together.  He was glad he’d given me a chance.  “I found out I was broken, too,” he told me.

That young man understood that no one is perfect, not even therapists.  That healers can be in need of healing, too.  By making it “normal” to have flaws —  even serious or disabling ones (his anxiety and my m.s.) — the young man was able to let go of the stigma of emotional distress, the impossibility of being perfect, that was behind his anxiety in the first place.

I still disclose my disability to clients although the passage of twelve years has made symptoms apparent that were once easy to hide.  I fundamentally believe that clients who come to therapy often do so because they feel alone with how they feel; as Roy Orbison sang, the feeling is that we’re the “only one” who experiences the depth of pain we do.  How secretly pleasing to know that the someone who slips-up, isn’t always self-assured, or doesn’t always behave the way the experts’ books say is your own therapist!

How healing to know you’re really not the only one.

Kathe Skinner is a Marriage & Family Therapist specializing in couples work, especially with those whose relationships are impacted by invisible disability or chronic illness.  She’s been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis for over 35 years.  At home in Colorado with David, her husband, and their two hooligan cats, Petey and Lucy, no one in their household believes in Kathe’s perfection.  Find information about the Skinners’ upcoming Couples Communication Workshop at www.beingheardnow.comand Kathe’s other dynamic practice and programs at coupleswhotalk.com.

Image Courtesy of supakitmod at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

© 2015, Being Heard, LLC

SOMETIMES YOU OUGHTA BE SCARED

clown hugBells should go off in your head if you’re walking in the woods and a clown in a bunker’s offering free hugs.  

Or when your guy grabs your shirt, slams you up against the wall, and says you don’t wanna make him angry.

And the whole theater’s screaming at that dumb young thing not to open up when the doorbell rings at midnight and nobody’s expected.

I’m not generally an alarmist although my husband David would disagree.  I do worry about fire starting in a trash barrel where he’s dumped grass clippings.  Or being afraid things are gonna blow up.  Or when I feel eyes on me when I’m working late by the open window in my first floor office and I can’t help myself I just have to look.

One summer my panties started disappearing off the clothesline, hang-up calls began right after my soon-to-be-ex left the house, and the guy across the street would make a racket so I’d look up to see him standing naked in his doorway.  When the phone rang at 2 one morning and the soon-to-be hustled me into the dark backyard I thought yeah, sure, I’m gonna get whacked — he had lots of, uh, connections; I didn’t for a second believe the police were evacuating the neighborhood.  But they were.  That spooky ass guy shot a neighbor who was coming home from shift work.

A bit after I rented out my condo, the woman whose doorway was a few feet away from mine was strangled at home then dumped in the woods. The daughter’s boyfriend went to prison for murder in a sordid story worthy of a bestseller.

Like people in an abusive marriage or those who return from war, I can talk about what’s happened to me as if it had happened to someone else.  Traumatic stress is often numbing and, whether the stress is long- or short-term, the need for self-protection can make us look (and be) detached and dispassionate.

Danger exists in trusting others even as protection is so desperately needed.  Laying down the guise, being vulnerable and exposed, is almost literally a deadly challenge that many won’t choose.

Traumatic stress is so often unexpected — who would set themselves up to be traumatized? — we cannot prepare or protect our psyches from it.  A system-wide shock indicates that everything in our world — most especially those to whom we are vulnerable like spouses, parents, children, friends as well as surroundings that once felt safe — is now suspect.  Add to that the invisibility of chronic, traumatic stress and the difficulty of  recognizing or relating to it adds to misunderstanding and further isolation and loneliness.

Traumatic stress can be vigilance run amok.

The experiencing, fearing, seeing, remembering of violence and harm can derail our thoughts and emotions, often forever.  Like someone who puts and keeps themselves in line for abuse, or those who think themselves immune to repeated horror, all of us need to realize that horror commands a price.  Similarly, we need to know that sometimes, not always, we can predict nasty experiences and seek to avoid them.  Problem is, the invisibility of stress disorders can mean that some people are less in control than it seems.  The creed of healthcare workers, protectors of public safety, combatants, and others who serve reinforces our expectations — and their own — about invulnerability.

Sometimes, vigilance is underrated.

Putting ourselves in charge, like not hanging out with somebody who slams you against a wall, is a proactive step to avoiding traumatic stress in the first place.  And when you can’t avoid getting bummed out, talking with a professional helper can expiate what may be stuck in your head.  That’s necessary if you want to be able to live your life without looking over your shoulder for clowns.

Kathe Skinner is a Marriage & Family Therapist in private practice who specializes working with couples, especially those for whom invisible disability — like PTSD — is part of their relationship’s mix. She and her husband David hold Couples Communication Workshops that help inoculate couples from the stress that a poor relationship can bring.  Register now for the lateswt workshop at www.BeingHeardNow.com

© 2015, Being Heard, LLC 

WHY DISABILITY INCLUSION WON’T WORK

ID-100144311This post was first published the first week of August, 2014 by the federal government’s blog Disability.gov.  To date it has had over 1,500 hits.

As a Marriage & Family Therapist with multiple sclerosis, I write for Disability.gov, my own blog, and others like it, getting the opportunity to be a source of strength for people and their families. That’s why I was surprised when one organization denied my professional presence because I didn’t have that specific chronic illness/disability.

Though illness-specific groups may be essential to living well, the “micro” view of disability dilutes what’s important for the non-disabled world to know.  Advocating for one chronicity over another may be a reason society doesn’t see an inclusive, “macro” view of disability/chronic illness.

For inclusion to be successful the commonality between disorders needs emphasis, not the differences between them.

Too many chefs in the kitchen.  The more “chefs” that compete for “counter space”, the smaller the counter space per chef becomes.  Just ask me and David when we’re in the kitchen together.

People’s attention span is similarly filled up.  With only 8 seconds before the brain moves on, it’s imperative that disability advocates grab attention quickly.  It’s not about the cause; it’s about whether the cause catches the eye.  Think pink.  If you associated it with breast cancer awareness, you just illustrated my point.

And when many organizations compete for the same amount of space, there’s always an organization that doesn’t make the cut. It takes lots of money to develop brand-awareness, keeping any disability in the public eye, which is where lots of fund-raised dollars go. For example, the success of breast cancer’s “pink ribbon” campaign reduces visibility of all other cancers. The “pinks” don’t even share the spotlight.

Interestingly, there’s been a pinkish backlash that the campaign is about advertisers rather than the illness itself. Some corporations may spend much more on advertising and product-development than they do supporting patients through corporate giving.

Holding a sign.   Over millennia, physical characteristics have defined which partner we pick in order to further the species.  Even today, positive physical attributes often define who we choose in a variety of situations.

Studies in social and behavioral sciences repeatedly demonstrate this phenomenon.  Ask yourself who is generally more desirable – even approachable – a pretty, smiling woman or the same woman who’s using an assistive device?

While physical traits may vary across culture and time, physical disability seems always to be a disqualification.

Different is bad.   When Mom and I went mushroom hunting, she knew what was safe to pick. Even so, except for the two of us, no one in our mushroom-loving family ate Mom’s soup. .

Most of us seek sameness:  what we already know represents safety in a dangerous world.  Like knowing which mushrooms to eat, being able to quickly pick out who is different is a survival technique that can increase our chances of being on the winning (not dead) side.  While jumping to conclusions poisons thinking, when it comes to survival, what is thought to be safe is better than being sorry.

People with visible disabilities and chronic illnesses pay a stiff toll, daily. Even de jure protections like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) don’t quickly change society’s de facto attitudes or treatment. Consequently, significant portions of the population entitled to the protections of the ADA remain invisible, choosing to avoid what happens too often to the disabled in work, housing, and relationship.

The in-crowd. My mother tried to get me to act in rational rather than group-think ways by employing inter-species logic that often involved lemmings.  Like lemmings, we like to affiliate.  Higher-order species have a “mine is better than yours” mentality; no one likes to be chosen last for kickball. Put another way, a person needs to feel superior to someone else. For example, I’m sometimes told, “At least I don’t have multiple sclerosis.”

Rather than forming a coalition that has strength in numbers, disability associations are often narrowly-defined and exclusive, repelling people who don’t fit the bill (think pink). Sameness attracts the same, so when selectivity combines with disability the result may be a man who judges other disabilities as not being as prestigious or disabling as his own. Or that another chronicity is less normal than his own.

Show me the money.  Fundraising 101 teaches that attracting glamour to a cause is a win-win:  Celebs earn brownie points for social responsibility and organizations gain public awareness which they hope translates into dollars.

How successful a cause is at the funding game is based on two realities from the world of social psychology:  The group with well-produced and well-managed public relations and advertising is judged to be trustworthy and knowledgeable; and, the more followers an organization has, the more adherents it draws. The Labor Day telethon is illustrative:  highly regarded spokespeople increase giving; and the more people give, the more others are likely to give, too.

There are reasons all people don’t unite under the disabled/chronically ill banner.  If no one otherwise knew you were disabled, would you want them to know?  Do you have trouble identifying with some types of disability?  Want to escape the judgment, treatment, discrimination, politics, classism, fractionalization, in-fighting, and politics of disability inclusion?  Or do you simply have other things (like eating) on your plate?

The discomfort with, fear of, and misunderstanding of the disabled population still exists, even among the disability community itself.  Housing disproportionate numbers of the disabled, asylums existed as recently as fifty years ago. One-fourth of the nation’s disabled live below the poverty level while the federal government codifies what ought to be a moral imperative in the first place.

Disability is an 8-second sound-bite: Limbless vets, autistic kids, select high achievers. Inclusion? The disability community itself is exclusionary; perhaps we need to look for answers there, first.

Kathe Skinner has been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis for over 35 years and knows first-hand what discrimination and judgment feel like in work and relationship and is now working to adapt to a changed reality as her disease progresses.  Thankful for stability in two areas of her life, she has been married for almost 30 years and is a Marriage & Family Therapist in private practice in Colorado where she lives with husband, David, and their 2 hooligan cats.  Read more about Kathe at www.beingheardnow.com.

Kathe welcomes your comments and can be reached at 719.598.6232.

Illustration Courtesy of Stuart Miles

©2014 Being Heard, LLC

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT BEING HAPPY

Funny couple

 

If you’re allergic to dogs, happiness is not a warm puppy.

Metaphors about puppies, or anything else, are potentially dangerous.  Even knowing where happiness — like any other emotion — occurs on the emotional spectrum doesn’t give the whole story. The only way to really know about someone else’s happiness is for you to ask and them to tell.

Thinking in deep and different ways about happiness isn’t easy.  Here are some thoughts to get you started:

 

–  Happiness has to withstand time, age like fine whiskey. Update your awareness: what made us happy then may not make us happy anymore.

–  Time and distance are sweeteners; I always love those I love when I’m away from them.  Be aware that both time and distance can be distorting while still sweet.

–  Remembering happiness transports us to a happier time; look at the popularity of oldies music, or school reunions.

–  Happiness can be a trickster.  Absence does indeed make the heart grow fonder, usually brought to you by distorted reality.  We want happiness so much that remembering it can be larger than life.

–  The “gift giver” doesn’t have to be animate and neither does the gift, like what what we derive from picturing daybreak in our mind’s eye, or watching sunrise in the moment.

–  Giving happiness to someone else requires mindfulness and presence.   For example, active listening to what your child, friend, partner says, and being heard yourself are monumental gifts.

–  Happiness shows externally (an ear-to-ear smile) while its meaning remains internal.

–  Your happiness is unique to you; no one else has ever been happy in that precise way.

–  It’s personal; no one can tell you what makes you happy.  Letting someone decide for you can turn happiness into unhappiness and resentment.

–  It’s a singular moment in time, that’s the reason it stands out.

–  Happiness can be bittersweet; like remembering past happiness that is no longer ours.  The coin of happiness has another side; in some situations, there is no happy at all.

–  Happiness can’t exist in a vacuum; and it can’t start there, either.

–  Happiness is an active process; changing as we change, growing as we grow.

–  Happiness is dynamic: the act of giving brings as much happiness as receiving.  Happiness is an endless loop, where giving begets happiness that begets the receiver’s happiness that can lead to the receiver becoming the giver where each one is giving and receiving and so on and happily ever after.

Mostly, you need to know that your happy can never truly be anyone else’s.  Sharing words and thoughts and then listening and hearing each other, that’s the only way any of us ever really know what makes someone else happy.

Kathe Skinner is a Colorado-based Marriage & Family Therapist specializing in couples work, especially those for whom invisible disabiliy is a player in their relationship.  Lack of happiness and poor communication are the two biggest complaints that have couples seeking her help.  She knows all too well that there are times happiness seems to be hiding under a rock.  What brings her happiness?  Her husband David, their 2 kitties, Petey and Lucy, the people who trust her as their therapist, and lying on a pool float looking up at a clear blue sky.

Read more about her at www.beingheardnow.com

Kathe welcomes your comments and can be reached at 719.598.6232.

©2014, Being Heard LLC

WordPress Tags: Marriage & Family Therapist,how to give a gift, giving a gift, happiness needs context,qualities of happiness,happy, happiness,Skinner,Therapist,emotions

IT TAKES TWO TO DO-SI-DO

cowboy boots red

Doin’ the do-si-do’s impossible to do by yourself. 

I spent lots of years hanging out with girlfriends or not hanging out at all, which was more likely to be true. Most times, none of us even had someone who filled in for love. I’m not ashamed to say there are times I would’ve settled – my need for affiliation was that great – at least for awhile.  Although I did draw the line at that Mafia guy.

Being un-paired suggested to me that who I was was unacceptable; someone whose standards, suggested Mom, were sometimes too high.  This time she was right.

The upshot was a 10-year marriage I never wanted and that didn’t work, anyway.

And when, post-divorce, I found someone to love, conundrums followed double-behavioral-messages and I was as heartbroken and needy as if I were one of those women who stand uncomfortably on the periphery of social situations.  How humiliating that, when I bought myself a dozen roses to make him jealous, he knew no one else had done that but me.  

If you haven’t been there, done that, and are newly-bummed by Valentine’s Day, here are some thoughts:

1.  Scoundrels are plentiful.  Scoundrels will always be scoundrels. Scoundrels become scoundrel-ier the more you like them.

2.  Singles gatherings are very sad.  While such encounters are billed as “fun”, they never are.  They’re too often a forum for people to tell their bad/sad story.  While good forums for social science researchers, mixers like this can suck the breath out you for weeks.

3.  Visit the zoo.  Animals who live in enclosures have other fish to fry so they’re not upset when your dump truck of emotions backs onto their turf.   Just don’t dump on their food.

4.  Develop a mental solidarity with women who become collectors of cats.  Every cat-loving woman I’ve ever met understands how this happens, and is comforted by knowing that homeless felines are plentiful if all else fails.  

5.  Diet only if you want to.  A hungry person is a grouchy person, not at all lovable.  By the same token, if you’re ashamed of evidence of those ice cream orgies, remember that a shamed person often lies.

6.  Going to a bar is noisy, phony, expensive, sometimes dangerous but often depressing, especially when your friend gets hit on and you don’t.  People sucking up the bar scene are generally alcoholic, shopping for a good cut of meat, or both.  

7.  At the first sign of abuse run.  Fast and far.  Never look back.  

8.  Everything you’ve ever heard about kissing frogs is true.  These days you really can get warts.

9.  While the world feels like Noah’s Arc. fact is that with the divorce rate at 50%, out there’s a pretty big pool of people rejected by someone else.  And they’re yours for the taking.

10.  A clean bill of health is as important as it was to have a passport in Nazi Germany.  The consequences are about the same, too.

Pairing up is about lots of things, many of which we have no control over, like the biological imperative to reproduce our species, and to protect what we create.   Humans are meant to affiliate; we’re social animals who rely on, and need, each other.  The herd is enormous – 7 billion and growing. 

The odds are in your favor.

Kathe Skinner is a Marriage & Family Therapist and Relationship Coach who’s been in private practice for the last 17 years.  She works especially with the invisibly disabled.  Kathe finds real-life adventures in Front Range Colorado, where she lives with husband David and their hooligan cats, Petey and Lucy.  Neither of them has square danced since they were in 6th grade.  Learn more about Kathe & David Skinner and the Couples Communication Workshops they teach at http://www.BeingHeardNow.com and be sure to keep visiting Kathe’s blog at ilikebeingsickanddisabled.com.  P.S.  Pass it along!

©2014, Being Heard, LLC

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INVISIBLE DISABILITY GOT YOU SIDELINED THIS WINTER?

Even if I walked away, I wouldn't be able to walk very far.

Even if I walked away, I wouldn’t be able to walk very far.

For those of us who are disabled, invisibly so, preparing for  weather that turns wintry follows a simple self-care rule:  stay inside.

As multiple sclerosis has progressed in me, simple tasks loom large.

Accumulation of simple tasks makes negotiating my environment literally hazardous to my health.

And I’m not alone in what can happen:

Impaired mobility.   “Give me something to hold onto, like a railing, or a walker,” I said confidently, “and I’m good to go.”  This from a woman who managed the unbelievable – falling down and taking the shopping cart with her.  Not just with her, on top of her.  The same woman who stepped off a sidewalk and fell face-first on her rollator into Chicago traffic.

Adding ice, snow or both increases  the danger, whether I want it to or not.  Cold temperatures stiffen already-Frankenstein-like limbs, reduce feeling, and can even shut down body functions altogether.  For me, any extreme of temperature, hot or cold, and I look and act like a zombie.

Impaired senses and abilities. When it’s cold, the body’s heat is centralized to protect the core.  Extremities function poorly, if at all.  Try counting change at the grocery store, or picking up something you dropped.  Even bending over is dicey and can result in a tumble.  Even worse?  Getting up again.

People with breathing difficulties may struggle, even with little or no exertion.  Arthritis sufferers are crippled all the more.  And the head-injured’s thought processes slow. way. down.

Anything already stressed responds negatively to even more stress.  Think of the knees of someone overweight:  when chubby becomes obese, knees already weakened break down when more weight is added.

Of course not everyone will have such a dramatic response to arctic-like conditions, but some will.   For me, balance and strength, ability to write, well-being and fatigue, mood, motor skills, bladder control, cognitive functions, like word finding, are some of what fall to unacceptable levels.

It’s just plain dangerous.   A wheelchair-bound client of mine was hit by a bus when the driver’s vision was impaired by a snowstorm – he didn’t see her crossing in front of the vehicle.  My massage therapist suffered brain damage when she hit the pavement after slipping on ice in the parking lot.

Our focus on independence may cost us, like the guy who refuses to leave when the flood waters rise.  Thinking about who picks up the pieces doesn’t cross our minds.

Can you afford to get stranded for hours?

Can your heart or lungs hold up to strenuous efforts to free your car from a snow bank?  What happens when your body’s attempts at staying warm mess with your blood sugar?  Or the stress of the whole ordeal brings on pain and diarrhea?

I have a highly polished ability to ignore what I don’t like.  I especially don’t like staying home on those arctic days when others are doing ordinary things, like going to work.  This is true even though experience tells me how I’ll hurt my body, mind, and self-esteem by ignoring how the m.s. in me behaves in harsh conditions.

Instead, control what you can.  Don’t know about you, but I already know what happens when I ignore what that is.

Kathe Skinner is a Marriage & Family Therapist and Relationship Coach working especially with the invisibly disabled.  She looks for real-life adventures in Front Range Colorado where the environment’s sometimes restricted by weather extremes. Currently, she’s cleaning up her home office while groovin’ to the oldies. A pirate’s treasure is stacked on the floor; who knows what she’ll find in all that paperwork?  Learn more about Kathe Skinner and the Couples Communication Workshops taught by Kathe & David at http://www.BeingHeardNow.com

©2014, Being Heard, LLC

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