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

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

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WHEN A CAREGIVER DIES

bigstock_Old_Couple_Holding_Hands_2041049     First published on Disability.gov

For 70 years she put up with his (sometimes volcanic) rumblings.  He doted on her with diamonds, and was a poorer father for it.

The youngest of 5 much older siblings, she was babied into being passive and timid.  He was a blustering bad boy who loved control; a lifelong natural at most things mechanical.  He took seriously his duties as a man, a spouse, and head of the household.  He didn’t brook anything that deviated from his definitions of right and wrong, a bigot in many ways.   A mother and military wife who could fend for herself and children when she needed to, she preferred being cared for . . .  and he liked it that way.

Both were fortunate:  for much of their lifetimes, neither was chronically ill or disabled.  Unless you count legal blindness, which he didn’t (though most who drove with him did).  And even though she developed macular degeneration, a disease of the eye that usually leads to blindness, she could sometimes see the world better than he did.

Several years ago her macular degeneration began to impact both of them.  By then, her hearing had deteriorated, too, and her world shrank.  Although she rarely admitted fears (not to us, anyway) he expressed his the only way he knew how:  he fixed as much as he could.  He cut her food, gently guided her through the dimly-lit places they avoided more and more, lent her his arm, and searched out gizmos and gadgets he found in catalogues.  He took care of her.

Last year, George left Kate.

True to his role, George had organized everything, including who his wife’s legal caregiver was to be — my husband. Now, almost a year later, Kate no longer plans on joining George in death right away and doesn’t cry for hours each night.  Not that she tells us, anyway.  As her vision deteriorates Kate, not surprisingly, adapts. David and his sisters do what they can from a distance of a thousand miles, mostly via phone calls and the occasional visit.  Immediate support comes from close friends and a kind and caring nursing home staff.

Today, it takes a dozen people to do what George did.  Even so, he can never be replaced.

None of us could live well if we spent too much time dwelling on the eventuality of death.  But some of us — the visibly or invisibly disabled or chronically ill — need to spend more time thinking about the profound changes a caregiver’s death brings.  Like David’s parents, my husband and I are fused by years, experiences, commitment and love.  Though I’m the one diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, in truth MS is something we both carry.

As we age and tire, slow and re-prioritize, both of us have to remember that though we plan to go out holding hands as star-crossed lovers, the truth is more mundane . . . and likely.  Whoever is left to mourn, cared-for or caregiver, what needs to happen is the same:

1.  Plan now.  The outcomes might look different, but the grief will be the same.

2.  Get your house in order.   You don’t have to be a survivalist in order to be prepared with legal, medical, financial, and personal concerns.

3.  Create your own family.  Gather together people who care, no matter what the will says.

4.  Get outside each other.  Get perspective from someone trustworthy and caring who’s outside the mix — minister, counselor, or therapist.

5.  Express yourself and your needs clearly, often, and appropriately.  Consider what to say and who you say it to.  Sometimes being blunt can be hurtful; at other times necessary.  Some people are better prepared to bring a casserole or help with housekeeping than to see you cry.  Try out your voice to a journal, or pay a therapist or counselor . . . they can be skilled and trustworthy allies.

6.  Keep in touch with others.  It’s unfair (and shortsighted) to place the burden only in one place — like with your son.

7.  Have someone to talk to, starting now.  Clergy, therapist, physician, friend, partner, family can help you sort out what to say and how to say it.  Think of yourself as a nuclear reactor.  Keeping it to you guarantees one of two outcomes:  shutting down or exploding.

8.  Join a group of those experiencing what you are.  There’s no substitute for having someone “get it”.  Don’t believe me?  Try talking to someone who doesn’t.

DSC_4482-K&DKathe Skinner is a Marriage & Family Therapist and Certified Relationship Specialist     specializing working with couples, especially those for whom invisible disability is part of the mix.  She has been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis for over 35 years.  Kathe and her husband David hold Communication Workshops in Colorado Springs and are both Certified Instructors for Interpersonal Communication Systems.  Along with their two hooligan cats, Petey and Lucy, they live along Colorado’s Front Range.  Find out more about Kathe and David at http://www.beingheardnow.com and read Kathe’s blogs, ilikebeingsickanddisabled.com and couplesbeingheardnow.com.

© 2014, BeingHeard LLC

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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THAT GIRL KEEPS FALLING ON HER BUTT

fall-down-stairs.jpgMy balance, isn’t.

So when I head straight toward the bushes at the entrance to my building it isn’t surprising.

Bushes are a trigger in picturing my first (and only) experience as a new MSer in an MS support group.   Recommended by my neurologist, the group experience was meant to help me cope with the way-past-due-diagnosis of my disease.

Instead, it freaked me out.

Walkers, wheelchairs, canes, crutches – and me, invisibly disabled, in high heels looking at a future unable to wear them.

Big time downer.

Especially when a guy lost his balance and landed on his butt in a bush. That he laughed it off was horrifying.

I understand, now, the reason he laughed.  Not only is laughing at the faux pas around the commonplace common, but situations that elicit that kind of response are also all too common.

The reality he must’ve experienced then is one I now share.  Today I laugh, too.  Because it’s truly comical at times and also because laughter is socially reassuring.  “It’s alright, folks.  I’m alright.  Nothing to see here, move along.”

Knock wood, I’ve yet to experience anything dire in my navigational mistakes.  Embarrassment to be impaired in public is what hurts. Most of us don’t know what to do in a situation like that.  I put lots of effort into looking unimpaired, but when I catch sight of myself in a shop mirror, the reality of how I walk, for example, isn’t normal at all. 

When I use an assistive device, a rollator in my case, parents scold their children for staring.  I’ve yet to hear mommy or daddy use the opportunity as a teaching moment to talk about disability; rather it’s “don’t stare” before hurrying away.  No wonder society hasn’t made much progress in accepting the disabled community who, except to children, remain largely invisible.

Recently, Disability.gov blogged an article about steps to take when being newly disabled.

It’s worth a read, especially if you’re not.

Specializing in couples work, Kathe Skinner is a Colorado Marriage & Family Therapist and Relationship Specialist.  She works especially those couples where invisible disability is present.   For over 10 years, she and husband, David, have been Certified Instructors for Interpersonal Communication Programs .  Find the schedule for their next Couple Communication Workshop at http://www.beingheardnow.com© 2014 Being Heard

THE RORSCHACH WENCH.

the-aestate-color-rorschach-inkblot-ink-blot-green-acid-art-print-painting

I keep a book in my office and if I had a coffee table, it would be on it.

It’s red, with a coffee spill down the front that’s dried into a Rorschach-kind of thing.  Nifty for it to be in a therapist’s office.

Inside, dozens of clients have written their “should’s”.

It’s not instructive to describe what they said; more than likely, their self-flagellations are the same as  yours.  What catches the new subscribers is how similar their self-flagellations are.  Put another way, there’s nothing special in their dysfunctional thinking.

Back when I was exploring how should’s get perpetuated, I was stunned and amazed to find myself described in the exact words I’d always used in describing my neuroses (notice I used the plural).  Admittedly, there was disappointment in seeing myself laid out like some common Rorschach wench.   I suspect that others, too, hold their depression, anxiety, mania, whatever, as a sort of badge of differentiation from others.

For others, as it was for me, depression is powerful; it was the coin of my realm and the way I bought into the realm I inhabited growing up.  Depression can get attention, especially when nothing else seems to.  That can be true in a  marriage where one partner exists with an invisible disability.   And just like for the kid who acts out, it’s attention of some kind, even if it bears a high price.

Being a therapist, consequently, has been double-edged: one edge cuts through the dysfunctional thinking, the should’s, the irrespective unfairnesses; while the other is sad to see those defenses so cut down.  What I do in my office forces me to be embarrassed at my own mental laziness.  Being depressed is hard; so is being anxious or manic.

But hey, it’s hard even when you’re not.

Kathe Skinner is a Marriage & Family Therapist and Relationship Coach in Colorado Springs, Colorado.  She comes by depression naturally as well as artificially and has recently added anxiety, for which she can thank multiple sclerosis.  Petey and Lucy, the two hooligan cats Kathe and David share their lives with, are too annoying to let depression settle too quietly in their home.  Kathe and David get out of the house by teaching partners the communication skills their relationships need.

HOW CAN PARALYZED BE PRETTY?

Photograph of Rachel and her husband Chris on their wedding day.

Photograph of Rachel and her husband Chris on their wedding day. Photo credit: Martha Manning Photography

I blog for the government’s disability website, Disability.gov   If you haven’t visited, do so; it’s cool, comfy, and inspiring.  At a recent look-see, I plopped into a story about Rachelle Friedman, written by the person who knows her best — herself.

You might remember her story.  Last year, at Rachelle’s bachelorette party, a friend’s playful gesture resulted in a spinal cord injury when Rachelle was pushed into the swimming pool.

The wedding was as sweet as weddings always are; maybe even bittersweet. By necessity, the wedding was delayed until Rachelle was recovered enough physically.  Because of the weight she lost, Rachelle’s wedding dress fit differently.  And the couple’s first dance brought the guests to tears.

At her age, Rachelle has had to face, career-wise, what is usually faced much later in life.  Changing careers is generally a choice, but not for her.   As a Program Coordinator, Rachelle planned and taught classes like line dancing and aerobics to seniors.  She calls herself an “unreliable employee” now, one who can’t be counted on as a 9-5 employee because of low blood pressure and nerve pain.Re-focusing, this young woman looks to doing more speaking.

Unsure of a definite direction, this young woman wants to make a career out of public speaking, maybe relationship coaching (which is how we got acquainted.)  Not surprisingly, judging from her first career choice, Rachelle’s into helping others.   She still wants to be inspiring and educating to others.

What happened to Chris and Rachelle is one of those “out of time” things; being disabled young is like a long prison sentence — no choice but to serve it out.  Besides the emotional disruption, the financial cost been significant, too. Being disabled isn’t cheap, and earning potential all but disappears.

So much of this couple’s future can’t be imagined, and is one that certainly wasn’t planned.  While they don’t yet know it, this couple’s future will be different in another way, too:  the love and compassion they have for each other now will be small in comparison to what it will one day be.

Next time, I talk with Rachelle about  marriage, sex, and the fishbowl of being a disabled hero.

Visit Rachelle at www.facebook.com/rachelleandchris and on Twitter at @followrachelle.  Watch for her book next year!

Kathe Skinner is a Relationship Coach, Certified Relationship Expert and Marriage & Family Therapist in Colorado where she conducts k-cropped-4x6communication workshops for couples, pre-married’s, the invisibly disabled, and the over 50 crowd.  Kathe enjoys collaborating with other professionals in order to reach more relationships affected by hidden disability.  She sits on the Executive Board of the Invisible Disabilities Association, is a regular contributor to Disability.gov., and is an ardent-and-natural-teacher-without-a-classroom.  She has been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis for over 30 years.  More about Kathe at www.BeingHeardNow.com.

How Come It’s “We’re Pregnant” But It’s Not “We’re Disabled”?

I don’t know when it became fashionable to identify pregnancy as an adventure à deux.  It always seemed lopsided that pregnancy excluded men from throwing up, having swollen ankles and shrewish moods.  I’m not even talking about all those forever changes like stretch marks, a bigger butt, and wider hips.  With the possibility of gestational diabetes, postpartum depression, or miscarriage, the adventure becomes a challenge, albeit one that affects the relationship although it is physically experienced only by the woman.

Not to make it one-sided, men’s experiences are extraordinary, too, and may include being the target of a woman’s whacky moods or being the late-night junk food scrounger.  For guys, it hits that the two of you are now a family, with all the attendant expectations to be the one who forevermore protects and provides.

Without a doubt there are many, many women for whom pregnancy is a delightful experience. The glowing, the growing, and giving life is an experience like no other.  Pregnant women and moms belong to an exclusive club that has unbend-able  membership rules.  So even if it was the two of you being pregnant, only one of you, in the strictest sense, is a mom.

It’s the same when a woman is disabled or chronically ill.  Only one of you is impaired even while both of you — your relationship — can be impaired.   Having an invisible disability can be the worst of all.

Our society looks for proof; needs to name it; needs to touch it or otherwise experience its reality.  You can’t be “a little bit pregnant”; you either are or you’re not.  Pee on a stick and you prove it.  With invisible disabilities, there’s no pee test.  For some people, taking it on faith is harder than believing that what isn’t seen is true.  For example, not being able to prove the existence of god doesn’t mean god doesn’t exist.  Obviously, it’s the emotion surrounding belief that counts; to disbelieve or doubt a person’s physical or emotional perceptions is tantamount to discrediting someone’s very existence.  The truth of it is immaterial, while the emotion surrounding such thoughts is what counts.  The thoughts may even be rooted in jealousy of a sort – “What, so you get a break but I don’t?”  “Buck up, you’re just being lazy.”  “I worked all day but I still have to make dinner and do the laundry and get the kids to bed before I can sit down and catch my breath and where are you? in bed.”

Quantification when invisible disability is present requires a different yardstick but most of all it requires belief, support, and compassion.

Adding a stress load to any system that is already compromised results in a predictable, and usually disastrous, outcome (think of how a building with cracks in the foundation responds to an earthquake).  The same thing happens when an already dysfunctional body system is unable to respond well when stressors are piled on.  Such stressors may include walking through a mall or having relationship difficulties.

“We’re pregnant” or “we’re disabled” is an implicit bonding between partners.  Life-changing events happen from which there is no return.  Legal sanctions apply in both situations:  the 20% of women, nationwide, who are disabled are entitled to lifetime support; children until they reach the age of majority.  Society doesn’t seem to have recognized that the “we” of marriage with children and the “we” of disability in a relationship are the same thing.

To say “we’re disabled” says that both partners are in it together, that there is emotional and physical support of the partner who is less capacitated. Pregnancy usually involves the active participation of both partners while acquiring disability isn’t chosen by either partner.  Parenthood never ends, just as disability does not; a major difference is in the expected trajectory – that parenting gets more pleasurable once the nest is empty, while disability often does the opposite.  Disability is different in that there is no consent, no pre-planning, and certainly no enjoyment in acquiring the condition.

Kathe Skinner is a Relationship Coach in private practice.   Specializing in relationships, especially those with invisible disability in the mix, she offers both in-person and web-based programs for couples.  See http://www.BeingHeardNow.com to find the right program for you!

©Kathe Skinner, 2012