IT BEGINS AGAIN. HOLIDAY SHOPPING GUIDE FOR 2014

stressed man giftsI love presents; who doesn’t?  Wrapped or unwrapped, gifts can be delightful.  And while this holiday giving season is over, shopping for next year’s holiday has already begun.

My gift to you is a gift-giving guide of sorts.   Garnered from over a quarter-century of giving presents great and small here are some pointers:

  1. Buy now based on later. That little boy will be a year older by time the next holiday rolls around and what’s on-target now will be babyish.  Fads, sizes, skill levels, and interests often change over time, especially with the under-20 crowd.   For some things and some people, wait to buy.
  2. Revisit the closet.  Set aside space in a closet for cadeaux that never made it to the wrapping stage.  I’ve found that what I was going to present to a friend’s son back then is perfect for someone else’s boy now.  We often forget what’s in our stash; those great buys-that-are-too-good-pass-up.  I once covered my whole list with what I already had.
  3. Shop local.  Bypass the mall to find unique and interesting goodies you may not have to spend big to give.  Buying local supports regional artisans and makes your gift more meaningful.  Be sure to avoid those times of year, like tourist season, when prices are marked up.
  4. Keep track of who got and gave what:  Some things are perpetually on the gifting-circuit and great care must be taken to avoid re-gifting to the gifter.  I once gave a book to a special friend because the title described her so well; turns out she had given the book to me in the first place.
  5. Avoid giving just to give.  Stores are full of meaningless things we give to each other because we have to, are expected to, or are directed to.  When we resent having to give, the gift itself reflects our feelings, like the pack of bobby pins I got in a $10 gift exchange.  Give a gift card for gasoline or food, something everyone can use.
  6. Match your gift to the recipient.  You might not be jazzed about a 4-pack of the latest nail lacquers but a girly-girl might.  And just because you’d want a set of graduated drill bits someone else (probably) won’t.  Who do you have in mind when you give?  Are you giving a gift you want the other person to want, or a gift they truly want?  Do you even know?
  7. Go in together.  At times, a big gift that’s too pricey for just you to give would be perfect.  When groups like families, colleagues or friends honor very special occasions together, the result can be impactful.   Linking pocketbooks enables more choices and lets us give what we want to rather than what we can afford.
  8. Give exponentially.  Most of us, especially children, already have too much. stuff.  Parents, who limit the number of kids’ gifts, are raising children who aren’t overindulged or numbed with plentitude.  Giving to toy or clothing drives gets the overstock to children in need; when children themselves are involved in the giving, the original gift is given many times over.  Likewise, a gift given to a helping organization in someone’s name is thoughtful and caring.  Think of how many people such a donation can touch!
  9. Pass it on or throw it out.  Like other fun lovers, I’ve been known to have an out-of-season holiday party as a way of getting rid of the what was I thinking? stuff.   A battery-operated spatula or cartoon character that grows grass out of its nose is too goofy to keep to yourself.  Take a tip from professional organizers:  give it away or throw it out, but get it off your hands.

For several years, kitties Petey and Lucy have taken the place of store-bought presents under Kathe and David’s Christmas tree.  The absence of ribbon and wrap has given them both a clearer view of gifts, both given and received.  Kathe Skinner is a Marriage & Family Therapist and Relationship Coach with a private practice in Colorado Springs where she specializes in couples work.  Find out more about Kathe at http://www.BeingHeardNow.com.

‘TIS THE SEASON TO LOSE BIG CLUMPS OF HAIR

stressed christms“God bless us, every one.”

I think Tiny Tim got really chilled waiting in line on Black Friday.

And Cyber Monday.

Come to think of it, somebody told me he was at the mall the other day, too.  Amazing, since he hit the deck real hard when he lost a tug of war over some on-sale Levi’s.  Gotta give him credit for gettin’ back on the horse.

Poor guy.

We had coffee at his house the other day.  I didn’t say anything, but you shoulda seen the place.   Like Santa’s workshop, but no ho ho ho. Bags from Macy’s and Target and  Aeropostale with who-knows-what in ’em.  Honestly, I don’t think Tim even knows.

Tim told me he couldn’t resist.  “So what’s left over’ll go into the storage locker with last year’s stuff.  No big deal.”

I don’t wanna say anything, but he seemed a little stressed.  Okay, okay, a lot stressed.   Nasty nightmares, even when he could sleep. Way overspending.  I gotta say, the marriage ain’t lookin’ so good, either.  Vicky’s back at her mother’s; said she just couldn’t bear to hear one more ***damn ring-a-ling-ling.  What?  I didn’t tell you?  Tim sat on a bag of bells, didn’t notice, and they somehow worked their way into…well, you know where.  Actually a nice sound when he moved; a little muted, but what the hey.

All that shopping, gotta be listed somewhere they talk about sicknesses.  But you know Tim; can’t tell him anything.

If you ask me, I think all this joy and peace and fa la la la la is killing him.

So, hey, me and the missus, we’re gonna do this 90% off warehouse sale.  Gonna go early.  Like before the sun’s up.  Wanna come?

Kathe Skinner is a Marriage & Family Therapist and Certified Relationship Coach.  She has a small stash of presents for somebody-in-the-future but has considerably whittled down her holdings.  She’s a firm believer in the concept of ceasing all manufacturing of giftable goods, believing everyone should recycle stuff by shopping at one big garage sale.  She and husband, David, live in Colorado with Petey and Lucy, kitties who leave little presents for them all year round.

©2013 Being Heard, LLC

THE RORSCHACH WENCH.

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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.

VERBAL OOPSES

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I was in the health food store yesterday and helped a little girl, about 8 years old, who couldn’t reach the roll of plastic food bags.  When I left the store, I saw her standing with an older woman; I smiled at the woman and asked if the little blonde was her granddaughter.  In halting, Scandinavian-accented English she told me no, the little girl was her daughter.   Hoping my embarrassment didn’t show I went ahead with what I was going to say in the first place – that the little girl was beautiful and very polite.  But with her having trouble speaking English, and it being the holidays and all, I do think it was “mormor” after all, visiting from Europe.

I’ve been wrong other times, too; either by omission or assumption.  When I greet already-established clients as newbies what is there to say?   Name slips are easier to cover; I just correct myself after apologizing profusely.  It’s when I discover my screw-up after the client’s left that grates; unfinished business or lack of closure or something like that.  All I know is that I hate having apologies go undelivered.  The absolute worst is making dead-wrong assumptions that are innocent but insulting.  Ever asked an overweight woman when she’s due?

I don’t think I’m the only one whose engagement with others doesn’t always work out.  It’s not always true that other people want to be vulnerable to strangers; it’s the grand assumption I make about people, probably because of what I do for a living.

There are unspoken rules about physical proximity, “getting in someone’s space”, and there are verbal ones, too.  Like how you talk, what you say, the purpose of saying something at all.

Women often complain that their partners don’t talk to them.  It’s assumed (there’s that word, again) that a partner’s thoughts, and especially feelings, are being purposely withheld.  It would be a darned interesting experiment (but unethical) to see if those same partners are verbally receptive to stranger-talk.  We’re usually nicer to strangers than we are to the ones we love.

Sometimes things just come out wrong.   Last time I was snacking my way through Costco I told the sample lady I’d knock her out just to steal every one of the cream puffs she was demo-ing.  Thankfully she was quick on the uptake, got it, and didn’t call security.

Do guys make these goofy blunders?  I know they do in sitcoms but do they in real life?  Don’t know; my partner hasn’t said.

Kathe Skinner is an inveterate chatter who specializes in coaching couples, especially couples whose relationship is impacted by invisible disability.  She lives in Colorado with her mostly-quiet husband, David, and their two hooligan cats.  Lucy chats more than Petey; guess what they say about women talking more than men is true of cats, too.

CAN I BORROW YOUR FINGER FOR A SEC?

 

Here’s a news flash:  stress can make you sick.

Maybe you haven’t gotten the message that stress can have a permanent effect on chronic illness.  Clouds your thinking, screws up your judgment.  Gives you the weepies and the angries.  Can take away your will to vacuum the house or cook a meal.  The effects of stress on the mood and memory components of your brain can get screwed up or even shut down.

Stress looks like lots of things:  a fight with your partner; anger or hurt at work; having to euthanize your pet (even making the decision); the temperature of your environment; hunger; lack of sleep, and more.

And our stress reactions aren’t just “in our heads”; they’re physical, too.  For example, my ability, literally, to stand or walk is impacted by the amount I exert myself in a hot environment.  Actually, I don’t even have to exert myself when I’m hot:  the very act of being is enough!

Worst of all are the cognitive impairments suffered from too much stress.  ”Chemo brain” is a good example.  While some doctors argue that chemotherapy cannot affect cognitive functioning, recent studies have shown that negative symptoms can begin as quickly as when a cancer diagnosis is received.   Seems the only thing that can do that is quite literally what we think when that diagnosis is received.  Cognitive behaviorists won’t argue that irrational thoughts are what need to be changed in order to change our feelings and ultimately our behavior.

Likewise, Adele Davidson talks about the relation of stress to “chemo brain”  (negative cognitive symptoms like loss of memory, confusion, slow or difficult processing, etc.)  in her book, Your Brain After Chemo.  I think many our of disabilities’ stress responses mimic chemo brain; certainly my multiple sclerosis does.

I’ve been talking about “distress”, or “bad stress”; however, we can’t go without “eustress”, or “good stress”.  Unless we stress our minds and bodies in appropriate ways (which differ for each of us) by doing things like walking around the block, carrying the wash down the stairs then folding and it putting way, reading, playing cards, debating an issue, problem solving, etc. we become mentally and physically flabby.  Ever see someone in a waiting room doing a crossword puzzle?  Same reason lots of adults work on jigsaw puzzles.

There’s a double benefit: not only is the mental exercise good for the brain, the pleasure and relaxation have a measurable chemical benefit as well.

It’s clear that sticking your finger in the dike doesn’t do much to hold back a significant quantity of stress.  In the flash flood of stress, we need to get to higher ground, take a deep breath and be glad we saved ourselves from drowning.

Kathe Skinner is a FABULOUS RELATIONSHIP coach who presents workshops, couples retreats, and teleseminars for couples who want to live happily ever after.   She is sometimes stressed by her husband, David, and their two hooligan cats, Petey and Lucy.