This is for all the people out there who are having a hard time right now. This is for all the people right now that don’t feel like they are at the inspirational part of their life story, they’re in the fire swamp battling the ROUSes. This is for all the people that are finding it challenging to wake up each day and do the basic things they need to do.
You are not alone. Many of us are right here with you in the swamp.
You are worthy of care and you deserve to have your needs met.
You deserve to be celebrated, no matter where you are in the cycle of your life.
You are worthy of healing, connection, love, and support.
I don’t know you, but I can 100% say I’m proud of you. I see what you’ve been through and it was A LOT. I admire how you’ve made it through, imperfectly perfect.
If you’re not currently receiving these feelings of support from the people and circumstances around you, it’s not your fault. It’s not because you did anything wrong or that there’s anything wrong with you. It’s because today’s hyper-individualistic society is designed not to provide those things. It’s a feature, not a bug.
It takes a village to live a life. It takes a village to celebrate wins, help people feel proud of who they are, and feel the deep comfort of intimate friendships and connections. It takes a village to give people the space and time they need when things aren’t going well to rest, reflect, and recover.
We don’t live in that village right now. We live in a system that intentionally and systematically isolates us from that connection that we need, and studies show that connection is a vital ingredient to living a mentally healthy and well-balanced life.
Because we’re all in living a fucked up system, it may feel like you are failing. It may feel like you could be doing a better job than you currently are. Don’t listen to the lies, you are not failing. You are a soul temporarily residing in a body, during a particularly isolating time in history, doing your best. You are resilient, kind, deeply compassionate, and worthy of help when times are tough. I mean, here you are, getting up each day, doing one thing at a time, and getting through. I am proud of you, my friend. You are a miracle, and deserve to be celebrated, just as you are.
If you’re someone who struggles with depression, anxiety or mood swings, I’ve got some news for you.
Your struggles aren’t all in your head, in fact they’re most likely in your gut.
Recent research shows that 95% of our serotonin (the happy mood regulating chemical) is made by bacteria in our digestive system. Surprisingly, our gut microbiome is responsible for much of our mood cognition and mental health.
It turns out that the state of our intestines and the health of the critters that live in them (our bacterial and fungal microbiome) can affect everything from hormone regulation to our immune system and most notably, our mood and cognition. Research shows that fluctuations in our microbiome cause changes in all of these systems and severe fluctuations can even cause disease in the long term.
There have been multiple studies that show that chronic depression and anxiety are linked to what’s called “gut dysbiosis” or an imbalance in the type, number, and location of various microbiome species. When researchers provided treatment that balanced the microbiome, levels of anxiety and depression decreased.
What does this mean for you? If you’re someone that tends towards anxiety or depression, the cause may not be all in your head. Of course, our past experiences and daily lives can affect our mental health, but it appears that even those experiences and trauma reactions affect our gut microbiome as well. Our head brains and gut brains work as one system when it comes to mood and cognition. Changes in our mood or stress level alter the makeup of our microbiome, and those alterations can in turn affect our mood and stress levels. Like much of our physiology, it’s not so much cause and effect but rather homeostasis (or balance) that’s important.
How do I keep my gut critters happy?
Here are 4 ways to keep your microbiome’s critters happy and healthy:
- Eat lots of plants. Our gut critters need to eat, too, and their favorite foods are what are called “prebiotics” found in vegetables, grains, and fruits. Make sure you’re eating a variety of these foods so your microbiome will have plenty to chow down on.
- Eat or drink fermented or cultured foods. There are plenty of foods that contain the healthy bacteria and fungi/yeast we need. Things like sauerkraut, pickles, kimchi, kiefer, yogurt and miso are all good sources of bacteria that our guts love.
- Avoid preservatives, artificial sweeteners and food coloring. All of these have been shown to decimate our microbiome. When possible, avoid these additives in your food. Some common food preservatives to look out for on nutrition labels are: nitrates/nitrites, sulfites, parabens, cellulose, and MSG.
- Meditate regularly. The list of health benefits from meditation keeps growing! There’s a study that recently came out which shows that the gut microbiome of Buddhist monks was healthier than that of neighboring residents in the same town. (I want it noted that the study states that, “All samples were collected and measured by professionals,” meaning that someone had the job title of “monk poop collector” for the duration of this study.)
If you suspect that your mood issues are gut related and you’ve tried all of the above without success, you can always reach out to me. I’m always happy to answer questions, and energy healing is another great way to address microbiome issues. I have many happy clients who have balanced their gut health through our sessions.
Mindfulness is one of the bedrocks of mind-body healing. Without it, you can’t accomplish any significant healing on a physical, emotional or spiritual level. I want to look at what I mean by mindfulness and then give you some examples of how it integrates with other healing tools.
Mindfulness is really two different things: the ability to be in the present moment AND metacognitive observation of this moment.
Being in the present moment means you are only experiencing what is going on right now in your environment, body and mind. Mindfulness is our natural state when we are feeling calm, relaxed and connected. When you are mindful, you don’t get swept away in thinking of a conversation you had earlier today, or lost in worry about how things may turn out in the future, you stay grounded in what is actually happening right now.
Metacognitive observation is the gentle, nonjudgmental acceptance of what’s going on in the present moment. It’s observing the situation and our reaction to it without adding any mental chatter about why it may be “right” or “wrong”. When you are mindful, you notice thoughts come up and say to yourself something like, “Ah! It’s worry. I’m worried about how my presentation will go tomorrow.” In this way you are not getting lost in spiraling thoughts about the worry, but rather you observe the worrying thoughts in a nonjudgmental way.
Mindfulness is a prerequisite to almost any other type of healing work because without the ability to be present and observe what’s going on and our reaction to it, we won’t be able to identify or change harmful thoughts, belief systems, or patterns of reactivity.
Mindfulness is the tool we can use to self-diagnose our own maladaptive patterns.
Without mindfulness, we’ll continue to engage in these patterns unconsciously, and the true nature of our difficulties will remain hidden from us. Doing healing work without the foundation of mindfulness is like going to the doctor and asking for treatment without having identified any specific symptoms other than “I don’t feel well”.
Mindfulness is the basis for the best healing tools for stress and trauma. For example, thought work is based on being aware of both our thoughts and our emotions at any given time. Cultivating our inner caregiver can only happen if we can catch our inner critic when they’re in action. You can only develop your intuition in a present and open state. Even physical healing from illness or injury only happens in the parasympathetic “rest and digest” nervous system state. (Note: if you’re curious about any of these tools, I’ll be talking about all of them in the next few weeks!)
Not only that, but mindfulness is incredibly healing on its own. Observing your own emotions, thoughts and reactions from a place of gentle, nonjudgmental acceptance can be the key to undoing years of bullying, emotional neglect and other trauma. Being in the present moment allows us to look around and see what’s good, safe and inspiring right now in both our internal and external worlds.
However, if you’ve experienced chronic stress or trauma, mindfulness may be much harder for you. You may feel pulled out of the present moment by anxiety, depression, hypervigilance or dissociation. For people with anxiety or depression, it can be challenging to observe our thoughts and feelings without internal mental commentary. People who dissociate may not even be registering what’s going on at all, and it’s impossible to observe experiences that you aren’t even aware of. In fact, people who have experienced chronic stress or have C-PTSD may spend most of their time in these other states, which can make both mindfulness and all of the other healing tools that stem from it that much harder to access.
If you’ve tried mindfulness or meditation before and it hasn’t worked for you, then I’d like to invite you to join me for my upcoming group course “Unconventional Tools for Healing” where I’ll teach you my trauma-informed take on mindfulness, and teach how to finally be able to get to that calm, relaxed and connected state even if it’s eluded you in the past. And from that state, miraculous healing can occur
Click here to learn more and feel free to reach out if you have any questions about the course or if it’s right for you.
One of the most difficult things I’ve done is learn how to love the person who abused me.
When I was 26 years old, I made the incredibly difficult decision to cut my mother out of my life. In child abuse survivor circles, this is often called going “no contact” or NC and it was not a decision that was made lightly. In fact, it was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made.
I’d tried everything I could think of — writing her letters, talking things through, therapy for myself, and family therapy with her and my sister. I desperately wanted a relationship with my mom, and I didn’t want to go through life without that type of support. The idea of not having a mom in my life felt so freakish and lonely, so I was trying anything I could to salvage a workable relationship so that I could have her in my life.
Finally, after a typical abusive episode at a restaurant where she loudly told me what I was wearing made me look fat, repulsive, hideous, and disgusting and she couldn’t imagine how I could let people see me in public like that (for the record — it was a nice skirt and blouse that I often wore to the office), I decided I’d had enough.
I was at a loss. How do you go about divorcing your mother? How do you deal with the guilt, the anger, the loss, and the intense emotional pain?
When I asked people who I thought of as older and wiser, the response was often, “But she’s your mother! You can’t cut her off. I don’t care how horrible she was to you, she’s still your mother.” I was told by so many well-meaning people that once I’d had my own kids, I’d understand how you simply CAN’T cut your own mother off. Then, they’d give me suggestions for how to work things out that I’d tried 1000 times before.
No one I knew seemed to have any answers.
And while I know they didn’t understand the depth of the abuse, and the lengths to which I’d gone to salvage the relationship, they were right about one thing. She was still my mother. I needed to figure out a way to relate to her in my own psyche, even if she wasn’t in my life. So what could I do?
About a year later, I found myself at my first meditation training. The instructor was B. Allan Wallace, a Buddhist monk who seemed like he may have some answers. One day I asked if I could eat lunch with him and talk to him about something I was wrestling with, in my life. I gave him a brief account of my childhood, my mom, and all the things I’d tried to do to repair our relationship. To my surprise, even after that brief account, he didn’t try to suggest new ways to repair it or even question my decision to go no contact. He paused for a minute and then said, “Sometimes the only way to have people in our life is to send them compassion from afar. And that isn’t nothing — sending someone the energy of compassion can be very healing.” At the time I thought he meant healing for my mom, but I’ve now come to realize he meant healing for me, too.
So I practiced sending her the Buddhist prayer of Mettā each time I thought of her (which was still many times per day).
“May you be free from suffering and the causes of suffering. May you find happiness and the causes of happiness.”
I repeated this over and over, through tears, through rage, through confusion, through grief, and through loneliness.
Finally, I started to understand. I could be furious at how she treated me and also have compassion for her suffering. I could be brokenhearted and also have compassion for how miserable she clearly was. I could hate her for what she did to me and also have compassion for what had happened to her to create such psychological instability in her own mind.
And I could do the same for myself. I could feel broken and depressed and also have compassion for myself. I could feel shame and also have compassion for myself. I could hear her abusive voice in my head, now my own inner critic, and also have compassion for myself.
Compassion can exist at the same time as anger, grief, hatred, and shame. Fondness or affection is not a prerequisite for compassion. In fact, seeing someone in their wholeness, both the “good” and “bad” parts of them, is a huge part of compassion.
And beyond that, once you feel compassion for someone else’s suffering, even love can exist at the same time as anger, grief, hatred, and shame. You can love the part of them that hurts, the part that is suffering, and in this way, you can move towards healing the pain.
“I would like my life to be a statement of love and compassion–and where it isn’t, that’s where my work lies.”
― Ram Dass
What Ram Dass is saying here is essentially the same thing that Jesus said, “Love your enemies.” It is possible to have love in your heart, no matter what someone has done to you.
It took me YEARS to get to a place where when I thought of my mother, I was able to send her love. Now, don’t get me wrong — I was still angry, sad, confused, and traumatized (sometimes all at once) but at the same time I was feeling all of that, I was also able to feel compassion for her suffering, and then from there, eventually, I could feel love for her.
My mother died earlier this summer. I hadn’t spoken to her in over 15 years, but when I heard she was dying, I went to the hospital to say goodbye. It took 30 minutes of meditation in the hospital parking lot to regulate my nervous system so I wasn’t about to have a panic attack, but once I felt centered, I went in.
I told her I loved her, and I meant it. She asked what had happened, why we hadn’t spoken in so long. I looked at her and said, honestly, “Our relationship caused me too much anxiety. I couldn’t handle it, so I pulled away.” She said she wished it had been different. I cried and told her I did, too.
And then I held her hand and told her all the things I loved about her. And I told her all the things I knew others loved about her, too.
She denied it all. She said, “Oh, come on” and waved me away.
I know mom. I know you never felt worthy of love. I know that’s why you tormented me, and I can see that through the eyes of compassion now. Hurt people hurt people, until we break the generational cycle.
So, I’m here to break that cycle. I’m here to “be a statement of love and compassion.” In many ways, mom, you were the hardest place to do that work. You were the person who did the most damage to me and so you were also the hardest person for me to love. But I thank you for that lesson because you know what? Now that I know how to feel compassion for you, I can feel that same love for everyone I meet.
I understand that loving someone has nothing to do with agreeing with their actions, their beliefs, or their words and, instead, has everything to do with seeing them in their wholeness and that simple Mettā prayer of compassion:
“May you be free from suffering and the causes of suffering. May you find happiness and the causes of happiness.”
Your friends probably enjoy it when you get sick. No, not because they have a secret streak of schadenfreude. They don’t want too see you feel badly, but they do want to help.
Studies show that helping others has a direct link to our own happiness.
Whether it’s bringing soup to a sick friend, helping an elderly person carry their groceries, or volunteering with the homeless, helping others can have amazing effects on our happiness. Mark Snyder, a psychologist at the University of Minnesota states that, “People who volunteer tend to have higher self-esteem, psychological well-being, and happiness.”
So, let’s get out there and make some soup!
You’ll not only be helping someone who needs you, but you’ll be helping yourself, too. How’s that for a win-win?
If you have a friend that has been feeling a bit sad lately, share this post with them and then make a date to do some volunteering! I guarantee it will lift their spirits.
How do you like to give back or volunteer? I’m always looking for new ways to volunteer or help out, so please leave a comment with your favorite way to help others. I’d love to try it out!