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Current Articles and Resources
LIMITS HELP US HELP OTHERS—Mandated Reporting by the HelpLine
LIMITS HELP US HELP OTHERS—Mandated Reporting by the HelpLine by Daria Todor ACSW LCSW-C MAC
Just a reminder that when you call the HelpLine, your information is kept as confidential as possible as dictated by law. During most calls—the vast majority—you can rest assure that no one is going to know your personal issues unless you give permission for it to be shared.
But in very rare instance, the law requires the information be shared, reported. Please note: It does not matter whether you do not think it is a reportable offense. The decision about reporting is made by the professional receiving the information. If the professional, with their best judgment, training and experience, hears a report that something is going on/has gone on of a sexual, physical and/or emotionally abusive or neglectful manner, then the report may be made. You may have been calling to get one type of help but end up being told that the first order of business is to further assess for safety and wellbeing of a dependent. In most cases, parents see the wisdom of making such reports even if it means that they might be investigated. If nothing occurs, then the case is set aside, and families get other help they may need.
In most of my career of helping thousands of individuals, this type of reporting is rare. It is upsetting to have to make a report because I know that it is very stressful for all involved. But I do it because it is the right thing to do, and it is a form of setting limits against abuse.
So, please do not let this scare you off from reaching out. Again, it is a rare occurrence. It may not seem helpful to have a report made to Child or Adult Protective Services or the Police. But in our society, children and vulnerable adults are in need protection, even if the report turns out to be nothing.
Season of Loss can be Joyous, too
Season of Loss can be Joyous, too by Daria Todor ACSW LCSW-C MAC
While I have been answering calls and coaching people who have lost loved ones among other things, I too, have been met by losses. It makes my work even more meaningful as it helps me remember just how difficult it is to navigate life in the midst of pain. It helps sharpen my empathy skills. It keeps me humble and whole.
A few months ago, I lost a 98-year-old uncle, the husband of my Father’s only sister, who is 93. We were much closer when I was younger and lost touch over the years. But when he turned 90, I initiated a celebration of his life for our family and made a point to gather for both of their birthdays after that. After all, we knew that they had only a few more years among us. A WWII bronze-star recipient, he was interred at a military cemetery in Pennsylvania. My aunt has begun the arduous journey without him. They had no children, so she now relies on two of my sisters who live closest to her. It is not an easy task for anyone.
Then, a few weeks ago, I had to make the difficult decision to euthanize my beloved dog of 16 years, an 18-year-old pound puppy named Malenka (her name means “little one” in Ukrainian or Polish I am told). I knew the loss would be hard. I had lost pets before but this I knew would be different. After all, she had been with me for such a long time. I used to bring her along with me to my offices when she was able to navigate the stairs and was able to mingle with clients and staff. She was, in a way, a co-therapist. She had a calming effect on clients who often were struggling and knew when to jump up on the couch and lay her head on their lap or when to merely snuggle at their feet. Her loss has been felt by my clients who knew her as well as staff who readily showered her with love and treats. I am comforted by such memories of her.
Of all the human conditions, grief is one that none of us can avoid. If a person lives long enough, they will lose someone of great importance. We can grieve things and aspirations, too. Endings can bring on great feelings of loss, even when it is a happy occasion, such as graduation from High School, for instance. Such endings are bittersweet, where we look forward to the future but also mourn the loss of the past which was our reality for so many years. Saying goodbye to life-long friends can lead people to be immensely sad and actually go through a period of mourning.
The tasks of grief are many. Although some recent research has tried to debunk the stages of loss that counselors share with the bereaved over the years, I still find them useful to describe much of the process we experience after a loss. We have to figure a way to navigate the circuitous track we find ourselves on (btw, these are not steps that are linear but zig-zag, cycle back and forth, to and fro, which make grief all the harder): from denial and disbelief, marked by confusion, derealization and numbness; to anger, agitation and anxiety; to bargaining, where we second guess our decisions, our relationships with the deceased, trying to make sense of the loss as if our bargain can bring them back; and when that no longer works for us, we plunge into the great yearning, the longing to merge with the beloved, which has been described by some as depression (it is not but can develop into clinical depression for some); and then we move into resolution and reintegration into life without the person, hope or dream. Although some phases are short lived, others can last a long time. I tell clients that the first year is the hardest, the first weeks and months especially. Holidays and anniversaries are most emotional but getting beyond the first anniversary holds a lifting of the burden for most.
So where is the joy in all of this? I’ll let you in on a little secret. Once you allow yourself to experience the pain, to allow it to overtake you like a wave on an ocean—not running or numbing from—the ebbing and flowing, you can learn to ride out the pangs by accepting that they are time-limited. And with that acceptance comes an allowance to also reminisce, to bring into the present the memories of how much joy our loved ones brought us. Even those with troubled relationships with a loved one tell me that there were positive, joyous moments. And if not, then joy comes from the freedom one gains from the ties that bound you to a painful past.
With each significant loss in my life, I have found myself to being more engaged in creative endeavors, of finding that I appreciate certain types of music, art, literature and poetry. The rawness of grief, the tears, clear my physical, emotional and mental air for greater receptivity to new ideas and experiences. Joy is a part of that. It is a new beginning, an awakening.
I encourage my clients to allow for such moments, to be open to approaching life with courage and curiosity. I know that there never will be another Malenka. She is irreplaceable. But the joy of her memory sustains me on those days when the great yearning overtakes me. I hold her brother-cat, Tom, a tad closer. I look outside my bedroom window and envision seeing her under the tree outback she used to walk under, all ablaze in Autumn’s glory. My heart leaps with joy. And gratitude.
If you are experiencing difficulties in life, remember you can reach out at 877-884-6227 24/7/365. Please make sure your voicemail box has room in it for me to leave a return message if I do not pick up on your call.
The Antidote to Sadness
THE ANTIDOTE TO SADNESS by Daria Todor ACSW LCSW-C MAC The world is full of sad news these days. With loss created by natural- and human-made disasters and actions, it is difficult to avoid the news. What are we to make of the spate of such desperate conditions, and how can we insulate ourselves and others from not only the actual traumas but the residual waves that come with the aftermath? Social media has made the spread of sometimes unfiltered information and news inevitable. So, guarding against too much immersion into it is important. Especially for young children and adolescents whose brains are still growing and developing. One thing I know is true—being part of a group of caring people, a family, community, is one way to be able to bounce back. Unions have that going for them. A guy by the name of Émile Durkheim way back in the late 1800s, wrote a few books, one on one of the world’s most pressing problems then and now—suicide—which was the title of the work (the other is, “The Division of Labor in Society”). I recall one word from them—in French, his native tongue—which was kept in the English translation: anomie. He described it as a social condition where people feel alienated from others and situations, brought on by a mismatch between personal values and modernization (he wrote during the Second Industrial Revolution). My take away in part from his studies and others is that it was rapid social, economic and political change which contributed to the problems in individuals, who at times found themselves strangers in strange lands in a way, disconnected from work and environments which held personal meaning. As you may recall, during the industrial revolutions, people moved from farms to towns and cities seeking work, leaving behind family, friends and the familiar. People left their roots, the land, to work for others in often dehumanizing conditions. Guilds, then labor unions, emerged to fill the social vacuum and to protect those workers. They continue today not only to make sure that workers and their families can make decent livings and live good, healthy lives, but remain connected to others in meaningful, purposeful ways. Fast forward to today. The tragedies of suicides, drug and alcohol epidemics, debilitating mental and physical illness, rancorous political climate, on top of other traumas, are seemingly everywhere. There is worry among public health policymakers and clinicians alike that too much focus on suicide can create a contagion, much like the spread of infectious diseases. Yet it and other woes must be addressed. SMOHIT is equipped to deal with such things and has been proactive in doing so. There are so many examples: its email blasts, the MAP team implementation and trainings, establishing the HELPLINE, tweets and the challenges they set for us. Not everyone is so lucky to know that there are people out their looking out for them. Remember, unions are part of the solution to alienation and depression. So, what is the antidote to sadness, this modern-day anomie? I enrolled in an online class to help find out. The class is called, “The Science of Happiness”, and is through EdX and the Greater Good Science Center/UC Berkeley. I already have some ideas but if I am right, there are more things that we can do to overcome adversity and be happy. One area that intrigues me, as mentioned in the course syllabus: “Understand the relationship between happiness, human connection, and prosocial qualities, such as compassion, altruism, and gratitude”. Most of us have the skills to be happy despite setbacks—we just need to be reminded to use them. I will keep you posted about any helpful information I find. In the meanwhile, remember that I am here for you, 24/7/365 at 877-884-6227. I am hearing from people around the US and have gotten a few calls from Canada as well, so please reach out if you need any assistance. You are not alone in your struggles. And sometimes, knowing that is therapeutic in and of itself. I am impressed with those of you who are helping fellow members get the help they need, too, be it with MAP or a solo endeavor. We all provide a safety net for those who may not be fully able to cope. That is power, and compassion. Keep up the great work!
New Season of Change
NEW SEASON OF CHANGE by Daria Todor ACSW LCSW-C MAC The tree outside my bedroom window, a towering maple, marks the change to Autumn with breathtaking brilliance. Slowly but surely over the past few weeks its crown and outer leaves here and there started to turn multi-shades of yellows, oranges and reds. A few in the neighborhood already are completely emblazoned. Most not so much. For now. In less than a month, turned leaves will carpet the Earth in our parts. As I drive the backroads to and from my offices, cornfields are ripe for harvest. Soybeans reflect sun’s gold. House after house are beginning to don Halloween decorations. A grim reaper-costumed mannequin creepily appeared off in the distance at the edge of a cornfield near a community college where I started taking Spanish classes this semester. A scare well worth it. Not a real one like many in our world—which include many of you—have had to endure. I am reminded of the many things for which I can be grateful: cool nights which make for great sleeping, daytime sun casting strong shadows, new beginnings of my choosing, like SMOHIT’s Step Challenge and the return to school. At this writing, I am not sure which of the two is the most difficult. Returning to school is humbling if it is anything. And trying to keep up with the step challenge has turned out to be harder than I thought. Life ensues, forcing my intended steps to take a back seat to sedentary activities (a lot of my career has required sitting with others and listening…). But that of course is just an excuse. I can change how I approach the challenge. Nothing says I must sit, especially when I am on the phone with one of you. Both remind me that change indeed is hard. There have been other changes for me this past year. Answering the Helpline has introduced me to people from across the Country, to your industry, to your careers, your families, your challenges and celebrations. Thank you for allowing me to be of service to you and yours. It is a great gift. Change begets change. I believe that my return to school is related to the process of change brought about by working the Helpline. It invigorated me and with that came a search for ways to improve myself. I joined the step challenge about the same time I returned to school. And the increase of physical activity spurred me on to rejoin my local gym. Life is like that. There are openings in life—transitions or shifts in one area which then lead to other opportunities. So many things are connected and if we are mindful, aware, we will see them, experience them. Seeking help is like that. I hear it, and in the case of my face-to-face clients, see the changes that go on in people’s lives. Someone gets clean, for instance, and then enters therapy to work on their marriage. Loved ones die, a family grieves but grows in ways they did not think were possible. They are among my heroes, my inspiration. So much has happened in this last year. Anniversaries have come and gone of natural and man-made disasters. New ones too. I wonder, as I often do, how each one of you are coping with the trauma of it all. Hopefully you are not living through it in quiet desperation but are taking care and making the necessary changes to be able to be your best. That is my hope for all of you. Remember, I am here for you, as always, in your seasons of change. Daria 877-884-6227
What Help Is Available
WHAT HELP IS AVAILABLE AT 877-884-6227 by Daria Todor ACSW LCSW-C MAC By now you have seen the stickers that are showing up on flyers and hardhats and mention of it in SMOHIT tweets and FB posts. I know because I am getting calls for assistance as well as some asking what exactly a person can call about. What exactly happens when you call this number, and what sort of things does it cover? The short answer is this: just about anything that gets in the way of you being your best self. Here is a list that covers some of the major issues. It is by no means a total list since some problems are unique to each member. But hopefully it will help you decide whether or not to reach out. I primarily will do a phone assessment to see if I can help in that call or if you need a referral to someone in your area where you can meet face to face. Sometimes people are at a loss of where to turn, and I may be able to help. When appropriate, I do phone sessions, set up over time to help a person through a crisis. Healing takes time, and I am available through that. Remember, this list may not cover all issues, but if you are hurting, suffering, please give it a try.
- Grief, trauma and loss
- Alcohol and other drug issues
- Depression and suicidal thoughts, PTSD
- Anxiety, fears
- Family: relationship with spouse/partner/family of origin issues, parenting concerns, aging parents/caregiving fatigue
- Work Issues: coping with difficult people/bosses; work stress/deciding when to retire
- Stress related to debt
The Helpline was established in 2017 to respond to the potential impact of the hurricanes, fires, floods and mass shootings of that year. SMOHIT also expanded its scope to all members and their families in the US and Canada because they wanted to offer help to everyone in need for those difficult problems of life. I have had the good fortune to attend some SMART MAP meetings and know that my work dovetails nicely with what the peers are doing. The combined efforts of MAP and the Helpline have you covered. SMART MAP peers are on the ground with trained members who are looking out to help those in need at locals and I am here via the Helpline to fill in any gaps. I also consult with MAP peers when they need some of my expertise. Remember, no problem is too big or small to make a call. Daria 877-884-6227 24/7/365
Change Is Hard
CHANGE IS HARD by Daria Todor ACSW LCSW-C MAC
Late January 2018. A new year well under way. Do you know where your resolutions are? Chances are they were right in front of you on New Years Day and perhaps the day after. But by now, not so much. How is it that we can feel utterly determined to do the right thing one day and then, poof? Gone. SMOHIT HAS YOU COVERED
SMOHIT is onto something because it is using what researchers know works with this issue–not only getting but staying on track to health and wellness. It may not seem like a big deal that they offer suggestions, resources, rewards and post competitions to encourage members to get involved in their health. But there is a science and art to all of what they are doing. I am so excited to be a part of their efforts to help! Just a Phone Call Away
By now you may be aware of SMOHIT’s HelpLine
. It is a 24/7/365 service
and I am the one who answers. It is a toll-free number at 877-884-6227
. You may have thought about picking up your phone and dialing but have held back, for a number of reasons.
- You don’t think a total stranger can help without really knowing you.
- You think talking is overrated.
- You believe your problem is not severe enough to warrant a call.
- Your problems are so severe and numerous that the mere thought of discussing them overwhelms you so you keep them under lids.
- You feel ashamed, embarrassed about you issues.
- You are concerned that your problems will not be kept confidential and that you could lose your job as a result.
- You may be the first in your family to have ever been in the position to use a service like this.
Let`s look at a few of these valid reasons and see if I can encourage you to be willing to consider dialing me up despite misgivings. I will start with number eight but will cover most of the other concerns if not here then later on. BTW, ambivalence about getting help is OK, normal. Breaking Family Patterns Family rules are powerful. I know what that is like to be the first to seek help in a family because when I did so in my early twenties I recall how monumental it was to be the first to go to therapy. I was acutely aware of taking that first step. I recall my Mother asking me if I was going to talk about her and said something about how she and my Father “did the best they could to raise us”. It was her way of saying to be careful to not air dirty laundry, a subtle nudge to not go. But I went. Not out of defiance, although that could be one of my not-so-endearing traits at the time. No, I went because I knew that I needed to talk with someone other than my Mom, friends, siblings or the neighbor ladies that frequented our home on Saturday mornings, while Mom cooked or did laundry, sipping coffee or tea, sharing stories of their lives and woes. No, I needed to go to someone who I didn't know because there was pain I needed to share without the fear of burdening those closest to me. A trained professional would be such a person. I went because the Mother of a friend who worked as a secretary in a therapy practice suggested that I might benefit from going. I trusted her wisdom and encouragement. I knew she had my back. Shame Takes a Back Seat to Self Care Still, I was full of shame about needing help back then. I told myself that there must have been something terribly wrong with me. I felt the stigma of “only crazy people” go to therapy. It didn’t take long for that to wear off. As the fifth of seven children, for the first time, I reveled in having someone and some time set aside just for me. That alone was therapeutic. They weren’t just friendly visits. It took work. And courage. I had no idea I was planting of seeds that would blossom into a future career. And I learned that it was the utterly sane thing to do. We are More Alike than Different Like many of you, human as I am, I struggle/d with or have worked through, many of the issues that face you and your families. I come from a union family in a small blue collar town outside of Philadelphia, the granddaughter of Eastern European immigrants that made their way to the US to find a better life. My father was a member of the UAW, a storeskeeper for the steel purchased by a company in Philly that made Fisher bodies for Ford. Five of my Mother’s six sisters married men who worked in the steel plant that surrounded the edges of the Schuylkill River, and two of her four brothers did as well. Of the men who married my aunts (endearingly referred to as the family “outlaws”), one went on to become a union president. I spent many a family gathering talking with him about what it meant to be a worker in the world, the nature of politics and the economy. He shared stories about working and marching with Ceasar Chavez and other union leaders in Washington, fighting the hard fight for the rights of men and women like him and my Father. He inspired me so much that I had taken a labor history course and considered becoming a union arbitrator or organizer like him, only to find out that back then it was not a field open to women. Union Involvement Although never a union member, I have worked with and supported union organizations in Federal and local governments and private sector industry. I have teamed with shop stewards and union presidents in helping members cope with personal difficulties in order to forestall firings for substance abuse and mental health issues or unfair labor practices. And when nurses at a hospital where I worked mobilized to bring in a union, I watched in horror as the organizers lost their jobs (later to be reinstated) in true union-busting fashion. The hospital board eventually met the would-be union’s demands by firing the old hospital president, replacing him with a young, enlightened MBA who truly cared for people and turned the hospital around, although the union never took hold. I believe however the it made its mark. As previously mentioned, I supported the Flight Attendants Union after 911. Much of what I know about driving safely, keeping my house safe and sound I learned from my Father. He often talked to us seven kids, who admittedly sometimes had our eyeballs rolling as he did so, about the importance of safety. He would tell us that the union and company were forever talking about it, and like any good Father, he shared what he learned. Despite our eye-rolling, to this day, as I move my frying pan handle inward and parallel to the counter’s edge, I remember the lesson he taught. “You need to make sure it isn’t sticking out where someone can bump into it and knock it over. That could burn someone, or start a fire.” Lessons endure. Union Benefits Benefitted My Family, and Indirectly, Me My Father was a smart yet undereducated man. He and my Mother, both oldest of their genders in their original families, only completed eight grade before being pulled out to help their respective parents manage family responsibilities. He knew that the protections of their union would keep us housed, clothed and fed. When offered management positions, lucrative as they were, he always turned them down because he saw what happened when the economy turned downward. When my friends` engineer Fathers were laid off from a nearby defense contractor, my Father kept his job. When nonunion shops closed because jobs went off shore, he knew that the union had his back. In the end, years after he retired from his job, it was his union benefits that helped him, and my Mom five years earlier, receive compassionate, comprehensive healthcare, complete with in-home hospice. It indirectly helped all of us children worry less because they were able to live and die the ways that they desired–at home, surrounded by loved ones. The First Step is the Hardest So, how can you keep up the good work and intentions when it is so easy to slip back into old habits, especially when you are hurting, exhausted, perhaps even traumatized by natural and human-perpertrated events? Get curious. Ask yourself, “What is the worst that can happen if I pick up the phone and reach out?” In the meanwhile, check out SMOHIT`s email blasts, Facebook and Twitter feeds. They are full of useful info. Share them with your family, too.
Past Articles and Resources
Financial Stress: It's More Than 1+1
Financial Stress: It's More Than 1+1
by Daria Todor ACSW LCSW-C MAC April is Financial Literacy Month. Financial literacy (FL) is defined as the ability to manage one’s financial resources effectively for lifetime financial security. Money, or financial security, represents different things to different people. Some see it as a means to an end. Others, as the one and only end, the be-all-and-end-all in life. Some are literate and manage it well. Others, not so much. I have learned some valuable lessons about the emotional impact of money from clients, even those that are supposedly best suited to handle it. A story: A comptroller of a moderate-to-large-sized (multi-million-dollar) organization had come to see me for an unspecified issue. His job required him to oversee the daily accounting operations of the business. As he sat before me, I noticed how he failed to make eye contact with me. His posture was slumped, uncomfortable. I had grown used to this in people new to counseling. First visits usually brought this out, so my initial job was to help him feel welcome. We engaged in small talk before getting into the heart of the matter. “So, what brings you here today?”, I asked when the timing seemed right. He took a deep breath, his eyes fixed on the floor in front of him, now appearing dejected. “Well, I make a good salary. And I am the sole provider for my family. Yet I don’t know where all my money is going. I don’t have enough at the end of each month to meet all of my bills.” He stopped. I wanted to make sure that I had understood what he had told me before responding—about what he did for a living. Yes, I had heard it right—comptroller. A numbers’ man. Accountant. I was a tad confused but knew that my reaction needed to be non-judgmental and compassionate. I looked up and met his eyes. I could see shame behind them. My heart softened even more. This was a man in a great deal of pain. Sharing this was no doubt difficult, yet courageous. He had already tackled the hardest part of the problem—opening to me, a stranger to him until then. Perhaps that part made it easy to share his burden. Telling a friend or colleague no doubt would have been emotionally risky. I knew that this was a solvable problem at one level: he had the skillset needed to do the math, as it were. What I didn’t know was whether the block in dealing with his family’s finances was related to something deep-seated, something that could set him up for failure. I decided to approach this from a competency standpoint, using what he knew well and merely applying the skills to his family. If that initial approach didn’t work, then we would have more work to do—to delve into what money meant to him, what and how he learned about money, how it was used in his upbringing… “You know, you have what it takes to address this. First, let me ask you some questions…”, I said. We set out by having him identify what skills he used at work and which he could use at home. I suggested that he view his family finances as part of a business—that of his family “corporation”, and to look at family members as part of a corporation, each having certain responsibilities to the overall financial health and wellbeing. He had not ever set up a budget for himself or his family so he started with that. I sent him on his way and asked him to come back after tracking his spending for one month. The next step would be to then figure out a spending plan that made sense to him and each member. When I saw him next time, he appeared lighter. He smiled more and looked me directly in the eye. He reported he was successful in getting everyone to track their spending and then pulled together a family budget. He said he felt reassured that he had what he needed and would check in with me from time to time. He did, informing me that things continued to go well.
So, what went on here? I chalked this up to be a modern twist on the old story of the “shoemaker’s kids without shoes”. The moral? If a person with so much knowledge about money could have a block to handling it, what about the rest of us? How can we become financially literate? And what if we have been financially devastated—what then? Financial Distress and the Family
Behind the headlines about the devastation caused by natural disasters and human-caused terror are untold tales of suffering brought on by “collateral losses” such as peoples finances. Like the comptroller in the story, people can experience high degrees of stress when it comes to money. Symptoms range from anxiety and nervousness to depression and despair, including thoughts of suicide and acting on those thoughts. Children are impacted by parents’ problems with money, yet their emotional needs often are overlooked, unrecognized or dismissed. If you and/or loved ones are struggling financially, there is help. You do not have to suffer in silence. Please reach out. There are many places to get help with finances. Here are links to some resources listed by the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists (AAMFT.org):
As always, I am here, 24/7/365 at 877.884.6227. Daria
The Single Best Holiday Present Ever: A Mindfully Heartful, Resilient You
The Single Best Holiday Present Ever: A Mindfully Heartful, Resilient You by Daria Todor ACSW LCSW-C MAC Whenever I try to gain some perspective on the holidays, I call to mind my fave Christmas story, “The Gift of the Magi” by O Henry. If you don’t know it, here it is–it is worth the read: [http://www.eastoftheweb.com/short-stories/UBooks/GifMag.shtml]. What I will say is that its ageless message bears one simple truth–the greatest gift comes not in the receiving but in the giving, done so mindfully, heartfully and gratefully as an expression of our feelings for the important people in our lives. There also is another message implied in this story. Although desperately poor, the young protagonists, Della and Jim, appear and act resiliently. My holiday wish for all of you, for us, is that we approach the new year with an eye on our own innate gift of resilience and to work toward improving the social and environmental conditions of those less fortunate. It is after all what keeps us going through all of life’s ups and downs. We can do so by being mindfully heartful by practicing gratitude. Focus each and every day on at least one thing you are grateful for. Add to the list each and every day and watch what happens to you and those around you. Other suggestions for a mindfulness practice and work toward resilience will follow below and in later posts. But first some information about resilience. PROTECTIVE AND RISK FACTORS Researchers talk about an important set of conditions that make up resilience–risk and protective factors. By practicing mindful moments, you will become adept at identifying these factors in your own life. It is done by being in the moment with whatever arises–the good, bad and the ugly. Most of us are taught to try to avoid feeling pain. We run from it, kicking and screaming, numbing ourselves by avoidance through consumerism, bingeing on those things that initially give us pleasure but end up being false refuges. This approach instead helps us allow anything that comes up to learn to be with it without telling ourselves that we cannot stand it. With the right set of conditions, we become resilient. We learn to roll with life. Resilience develops with the mindset of calm acceptance of our situation in the moment. When we panic and seek distractions to avoid facing our problems, we augment our situation. The trick is to treat everything that comes up equally–not running from pain or toward distraction but to step back with curiosity and allowance for both. It is a tall task but doable. Let’s get started by first looking at what makes up resilience. I will list some additional resources below to help build on the topic, such as exercises you can do on your own. PROTECTIVE FACTORS Listed at [https://positivepsychologyprogram.com/resilience-in-positive-psychology/]: Acceptance, hardiness, mastery, hope, self-efficacy, sense of coherence, resourcefulness, positive self image, problem-solving skills, self-regulation (without externals like drugs and alcohol), adaptability, faith/understanding one’s meaning and purpose in life, positive outlook, skills and talents that are valued by self and community, general acceptance by others RISK FACTORS These were listed on a position paper published by the World Health Organization (WHO) [https://www.bing.com/search?pc=FOWI&form=AMZNS2&q=adversity+and+risk+factors+for+illness]: INDIVIDUAL ATTRIBUTES: low self esteem, cognitive/emotional immaturity, difficulties in communication, medical illness, substance use (including alcohol); SOCIAL CIRCUMSTANCES: loneliness, bereavement, neglect, family conflict, exposure to violence/abuse, low income and poverty, difficulties or failure at school work stress, unemployment; ENVIRONMENTAL FACTORS: poor access to basic services, injustice and discrimination, social and gender inequalities, exposure to war or disaster. Notice that I am not saying that we should be in pain all the time. That is not what this is about. Some people live with chronic pain and suffer intensely. Those of you who have lost things and loved ones during this year’s devastating natural disasters and terrorism are in the throes of such pain right now. And yet, throughout it all, there are moments where pain moves to the background and allows the goodness of life to seep in to the foreground. It is in that place–the foreground of the present moment–that mindfulness occurs. It is where we build resilience. A NEW YEAR As we approach the end of this holiday season and the beginning of a new year, take stock in the important gifts of people in your respective and collective lives–those that you consider family. We have many families in this life–the one we are born into, the one we grow up in, another we form as we find our ways in the world, and then the one we finally leave at the end of our lives. Some of you are single without children. Others–those who were adopted or have lost members through death or strife–either are brought into families that become kin or made at a surrogate–chosen families–from the natural affiliation of work and friendship. We all need to have those who love and care for us. And in case you need a reminder, you are the most important person in the important people in your life. Your best gift to others and to you is your health and wellbeing. We are here to help you grow into that life gift to you and yours. Please let us help. If you are struggling and need to talk, call the Help Line at 877-884-6227, 24/7. For a free pdf download on resilience visit: [https://positivepsychologyprogram.com/resilience-activities-worksheets/]. More to follow.
Like it or not, the holiday season has unofficially begun. In my area it started in mid to late September when the first mention of Christmas appeared in a tv ad. “Good grief,” I said when I saw it. “I miss the days when everyone waited to advertise until after the Thanksgiving parade.” I am not alone. People are recognizing that too much and too soon of a good thing isn’t all that good after all. In fact it is down right overwhelming, stressful. This year several large companies-Costco, REI to name a few–have indicated they will close for Thanksgiving to allow their employees and customers to celebrate the meaning and intent of that holiday. I wholeheartedly support their efforts. Employees need to celebrate too! PREVENTING STRESS and BLUES Many of you were directly impacted by some of the worst events to befall our country this year–hurricanes, fires, and the ambush, murder and emotional and physical injury of people going about their lives. You are suffering. Grieving. All of us who remotely witnessed such events via broadcast and social media are vicariously suffering as well. We may not feel the same pain but we feel deep sadness, anger, worry. When the holidays arrive, the added stress they bring can often be too much. How much can a person take? The answer is personal, individual. Each of us has a threshold, a tipping point that when reached, we know it. Thing is, it’s easier to heal before we reach that limit if possible. And the best way to do that is through anticipation and prevention. Here are some tips to help.
- SPEND TIME PLANNING. This may be the year of what some refer to as “the new normal”. If you lost everything in a flood or fire, this is forced on you by that disaster. You cannot bring back what nature destroyed. Same holds for those that lost loved ones, or in the case of those sustaining injuries in one of these events, the new normal may mean spending time adjusting to the loss of your loved on, or in a hospital or rehab facility regaining strength. Take the time to really think about what will be different this year, which things you want to just chuck altogether and which new traditions you will start. Our power to overcome overwhelming feelings comes from choice making and planning. Plan well and your choices will be easier.
- SET PRIORITIES. In the past you might have been the one that hosted holiday gatherings, did loads of shopping, shipped presents cross country or overseas, volunteered at church singing in the choir, decorating not just one but multiple trees making sure that everything be “just so” so that you and yours take with them cherished memories of each holiday. This year it may not be possible at all. Guilt may set in at the thought of not being able to do what you want to do, or think you must do. Your priority this year may be healing, not holiday celebrations. It is okay to change focus. Change is a part of being healthy.
- ALLOW CHANGE TO OCCUR. That means you have to accept that things are going to be different. Communicate this to those that may be impacted by the changes so that they buy into the process. Tension of change and sameness will occur but if you stand firm and sell others on the idea that it is a good thing for all, that they will rise to the occasion and pitch in. “NO” is not a four letter word. Use it liberally.
- ALLOW OTHERS TO PITCH IN. This is directed to those of you that are the doers in a family or work group. If you are feeling overwhelmed, you may need help due to your circumstances. It is human nature, however, to let others continue doing the same thing each year at holidays because it becomes part of the tradition (like Mom and Dad hosting dinner at their home). That means you need to ask for help or offer an alternative suggestion for this year. People are normally more than willing to step up when it is requested. Usually it is our sense of guilt and embarrassment that we can no longer do something that gets in the way that prevents a change from occurring in a family or workplace. If you feel you cannot organize the holiday office party this year, let others know so they can step up and take over. There is no sin in that at all.
- A WORD ABOUT FINANCES. People who study holiday stress indicate that overspending or not having enough money is the largest stressor to contend with, next to coping with family dynamics and conflict. This year will be no different I am sure. Those who lost homes and cars, or income from the loss of a loved one or their own injuries will feel this most strongly. Many never got fully back on their feet after the financial meltdown of nearly a decade ago. And those that have still feel a tremendous amount of pressure to spend more and more to celebrate. The thing about money is this: it is a means to an end. And if the end is to truly celebrate, define what you are truly celebrating (see #1) and ask if you really must spend all the money that you have in the past. I’ll be listing some resources that can help you with that in another post.
- ARE YOU STRESSED, DEPRESSED, S.A.D or BLUE?
Feeling some level of stress is part of the human condition. Even when things are going well, we might worry or be upset, even sad. Even at happy occasions like weddings. Our feelings ebb and flow. We adapt. Cope. We are a resilient species, finding ways to deal with life’s ups and downs. Most of us operate under that bell-shaped curve of response to life. On one end is where people are feeling pretty darned good, in the middle under the curve a mix of feelings, and then at the other end those that don’t cope so well. The trick to life is to try to devise ways of thinking, feeling and acting that keep us flexible enough to move under the curve and if we are lucky we will even get to the end where we flourish. Even if life has dealt us a great hand–having a wonderful childhood, a good job, friends, mate, education–a small percentage of people will not always cope so well at any given time. In fact, the vast majority of people report that over the course of their respective lifetimes they have experienced high levels of stress to the point of depression and anxiety. They fall at that far end of the stress spectrum, through no fault of their own. Feeling blue is a low grade level of this disorder, something that occurs usually after a setback but sometimes without a known cause. The worst case can be something that warrants treatment by a professional. It is marked by significant changes in mood, energy level, appetite, interest and ability to concentrate and problem solve up to and including, for a growing number, thoughts of harm to self or others–including death by their own hand. It is a disorder that has its own causes and is not always triggered by a loss. Genetics play a role. Some medical conditions cause symptoms. So do some medications and drugs, including alcohol. Grief, which feels a lot like depression, is its own condition but it can turn into depression in some individuals. There also are some of you that suffer from SAD–Seasonal Affective Disorder–a form of depression that changes with the Earth’s seasons. Most with the disorder show dramatic shifts in mood and behavior in the Fall and Winter but a smaller group shows it in the Spring and Summer. People with bipolar disorder can show changes seasonally too but that disorder again has its own causes. And finally, conditions such as anxiety disorders, PTSD, psychoses and even some medical illness can flare up under holiday stress. The important thing is to know yourself and take care. Please reach out if you have any questions or concerns about coping with the holidays–or anything that is upsetting you. I am here at the helpline 24/7. My number is 877-884-6227. Again, I’ll be posting some resources for help with holiday coping. Please take care! Daria Todor, ACSW, LCSW-C MAC
Grief and Trauma in the Wake of Natural Disasters
Grief and Trauma in the Wake of Natural Disasters Grief defined: The emotional impact of loss. Trauma defined: harm caused by events that are outside normal, everyday occurrences. Humans are equipped to respond to day-to-day ups and downs and the occasional crisis in our lives. Our biology has developed systems that are activated to respond to stress by alerting those sub-parts that pump the body up to fight, freeze or flee when danger occurs. And when the coast is clear, other parts kick in and allow our bodies to rest and recover. Even when there is a lot of daily stress, if we take care of ourselves, we will rebound, ready for the next round of issues to contend with. Natural disasters are one of those dangerous events that put individuals, families and communities out of equilibrium, taxing normal coping strengths, sometimes long after the events themselves are gone. Devastation brought on by natural disasters like Hurricanes Harvey and Irma is often tallied in monetary terms. The numbers are staggering- billions of dollars in lost property, miles of sea front, heads of livestock and equipment. What isn`t as well reported is the emotional toll of such devastation–namely, the impact of grief and trauma on the lives of those left behind to rebuild their lives. People don`t have to have suffered a death of a loved one to experience grief. Grief can come out of experiencing trauma and loss of things and situations that bring meaning and order to our lives. Hurricanes do just that-they disrupt lives in such totality for some that it plunges them into periods of despair. Others experiencing the same storm, because of the nature of the storm, may leave other homes relatively untouched, causing a sense of ‘why me?’ and isolation. Here`s the thing about grief: it happens and is normal when it is allowed to surface and be honored. When it isn`t, people struggle far longer than need be. It becomes what is referred to as ‘disenfranchized`. Stuck and unrecognized. People end up so depressed they shut down from all feeling by turning to drugs and alcohol or other addictions to numb themselves from the pain. So how do you allow grief to surface and honor it, especially when so many other things need your attention after a hurricane? The chief thing that does not take much time, and can be done once you have found safety and security, is by first off recognizing that what you have lost was valuable to you in ways that gave meaning to YOU. No one else can tell you what was meaningful to you. If a pet was lost in the storm and you valued that pet as a family member, allow yourself to recall them with fondness, shed tears or reach out to other pet owners to garner support and understanding. Second, don`t fight the sadness for too long. If you must hold back the tears or anger (signs of grief) in order to get work done, then allow some time for yourself to reflect. Contact the HelpLine at 877-884-6227 to learn more about grief and trauma.
Daria`s Favorite Sites for Growth and Healing
The secret to post-traumatic growth and resilience lies in peoples`s ability to not only utilize their own natural abilities for coping and healing but to know how and when to be willing to learn new skills to repair and renew. Here`s a list of some favorite resources that people can use in developing and sustaining such growth.
- Happify.com. This is a free service but can be upgraded for a fee. I tried the upgrade for one year and found it helped me increase my meditation practice, which was a goal I had set that year. If you aren`t into meditation, there is a whole bunch of other things you can do on there-fun games, journaling, challenges. The site reports using evidence-based science on positive psychology and other approaches.
- Greater Good Science Center (https://greatergood.berkeley.edu). This site is dedicated to studying and sharing research on mindfulness and happiness. There are free guided meditations you can access, articles and videos chock-full of info on the best ways to approach life problems.
- Positive Psychology Center (https://ppc.sas.upenn.edu). Research center based at the University of Pennsylvania that promotes training, education and dissemination of information on positive psychology (the study of strengths that enable individuals and communities to thrive), resilience and grit.
- Mindfulnesss-Based Stress Reduction Course (https://paulousemindfulness.com). Free course adapted from evidence-based course for stress management. Teaches how to change your relationship to your thoughts, emotions and behaviors using simply your breathing and awareness. This stuff really works!
- Psychology Tools (https://psychologytools.com). Free site out of the UK that has a ton of handouts on a broad range of psychological approaches. I often use these in session with clients as some require some knowledge of the treatment. If you need help using them, contact me at the help line at 877-884-6227.
- Couples and Parenting Issues:
- The Gottman Institute (gottman.com). Evidence-based help for couples and parents. The Gottmans conducted years of scientific studies on what makes relationships work and have educated thousands of therapists in these findings (I`m one of them). They have books for couples and parents and self-guided training programs as well. One of their best sellers: `The Art and Science of Love`.
- Imago Relationship Therapy (imagorelationships.org). Harville and Helen LaHunt Hendrix, PhDs, are the developers of Imago Therapy and a couples dialogue I use with not only couples but with any relationship that needs careful airing and processing. I recommend two books: `Getting the Love You Want` for couples and `Keeping the Love You Find` for singles.
- Mental Health and Substance Abuse Issues
- Rethinking Drinking (https://rethinkingdrinking.niaaa.nih.gov). Online site (fre hardcopy brochure also available) with valuable research-based information about drinking. How do you know if you have a healthy relationship to alcohol? `It emphasized that drinking is not bad in and of itself-it shows how much you`re doing it and how it`s affecting your life. (quote from the site).
- National Institute of Drug Abuse/NIDA (www.drugabuse.gov)
- Substance Abuse Treatment Locator (www.samhsa.gov)
- Suicide Hotline – 1-800-662-4357 (HELP)
- Disaster Distress Hotline – 800-985-5990
- Intimate Partner Violence National Domestic Violence Hotline: (thehotline.org) or phone: 800-799-7233/800-787-3224 TTY
- Pain Management Support: Pain Connection (painconnection.org/support).
Stages, Signs and Symptoms of Trauma and Grief
How does one heal from the devastation brought on by tragic loss, such as that caused by recent hurricanes? Researchers and clinicians alike are quick to share what they have learned in studying and treating people impacted by previous calamities, and although some things have changed, much remains the same.The focus today, instead of merely looking at what goes awry when trauma occurs, is to look at what goes well. The terms, post-traumatic growth and resilience, define such focus.Two other terms, grief and mourning, parallel processes to trauma and loss, are equally important to understand. The term, post traumatic stress disorder or PTSD for short, has found its way into public parlance. Many people recognize it as extreme reaction to catastrophes, war, serious accidents, rape and a host of other causes. What many don`t realize is that only a small percentage of victims actually develop the disorder. Instead what occurs is referred to as acute stress reaction or disorder or in the case of suffering a significant loss, grief. In time, most will recover and return to normal functioning and enjoyment of life. PTSD or acute stress however are painful conditions. Common symptoms are: exaggerated startle response, hypervigilence, panic attacks, disturbed sleep (nightmares, inability to sleep), sense of unreality, loss of appetite or upset stomach after eating, feeling overwhelmed alternating with lack of any feeling at all, and racing thoughts. Stages of Grief and Loss Thantologists-scientists that study loss-have recognized predictable stages that all humans, and some animals, cycle through in the time after a death or meaningful loss. These stages occur to allow us to ease into the reality of a loss. The process of grieving, known as mourning or bereavement, allows grief to evolve and express itself more fully. Recognizing the need for such expression normalizes peoples experiences of it. Grief is enormous and no doubt the most difficult of all emotions, lasting far longer that most of our short-lived emotions and feelings. Allowing for this enormity, recognizing the need for time for its expression, is part of the healing. 1. Shock, disbelief, denial. 2. Anger, agitation, anxiety. 3. Bargaining (“if only I had done something…”, “why did God not take me instead of her?”) 4. Depression, intense yearning and longing for the departed or that which is lost. 5. Resolution including acceptance of a new reality. Know that you are not alone if you are experiencing any of the symptoms or stages. Please call the Grief and Trauma Helpline at 877-884-6227 to talk about your experiences. Talking helps.
Resources For Holiday Happiness
Resources For Holiday Happiness
Here are some sites for you and your family to help make this year’s holiday season bright. FINANCIAL
- “CHRISTMAS TRADITIONS YOU CAN CUT, KEEP, OR TOTALLY RETHINK”. Dave Ramsey’s recommendations for things to eliminate for holiday savings. If you are not familiar with Dave`s work, he takes a no-nonsense approach to overcoming debt and living within our means. [https://www.daveramsey.com/blog/holiday-traditions-to-rethink?utm_source=cnl&utm_medium=email&utm_content=11.13_cnl_holiday_traditions_rethink_blog&utm_term=dr_blog_bu&utm_campaign=christmas_campaign_2017&cd17=b2c_LS_CN_171113_B_AMSend]
- “5 WAYS to PLAN AHEAD FOR A FRUGAL CHRISTMAS”; “HOW TO PLAN AHEAD FOR A FRUGAL CHRISTMAS”; “25 HOMEMADE CHRISTMAS GIFTS”. by ‘The Retro Housewife’. I just found her site and liked what she had to offer. [http://retrohousewifegoesgreen.com]
- “HOLIDAY SAVINGS” by Money Management International (MMI). MMI helps people who are in debt, especially with credit cards, to settle up, often with reduced fees and interest rates. They also offer a lot of services online including loads of useful articles. Here’s one for the holidays. [http://www.moneymanagement.org/financial-education/holiday-savings.aspx]
- “TAX RELIEF FOR DISASTER SITUATIONS” by the IRS. The IRS has information for those of you impacted by disasters this year. And contrary to what a lot of people think, the IRS will work with people who have hit hard times even without natural disasters and terrorism. [https://www.irs.gov/newsroom/tax-relief-in-disaster-situations]
- “SIMPLIFY THE HOLIDAYS” by newdream.org. New Dream is a great site for those who want to try another way with the idea of doing what works for you and yours, of returning to basics. Here are just two of their Holiday posts: [https://newdream.org/simplify-the-holidays-calendar]; [https://newdream.org/resources/simplify-the-holidays-booklet]
- “HELPING CHILDREN AFTER A TRAUMA”; “COPING IN HARD TIMES” . The National Child Trauma Services Network has several online articles regarding all sorts of concerns impacting children and families, including coping during the holidays. They have sections just for parents in addition to those for service providers. [http://www.nctsnet.org/sites/all/modules/pubdlcnt/pubdlcnt.php?file=http://nctsn.org/sites/default/files/assets/pdfs/coping_for_parents_final.pdf&nid=270]
- ‘THE IMPORTANCE OF ESTABLISHING FAMILY TRADITIONS” by theartofmanliness.com. A blog “dedicated to uncovering the lost art of being a man.dedicated to men of all ages.” It summarizes a book by Meg Cox about creating family traditions. [http://www.artofmanliness.com/2013/10/09/creating-a-positive-family-culture-the-importance-of-establishing-family-traditions/]
REMINDERS –If you lost loved ones, or were injured and are now rehabbing and finding you cannot do like you once did, please know that SMOHIT set up the Help Line as just one of many ways to reach out to members and their families. We are hoping that everyone is coping. –Know that much of what you are thinking, feeling and how you are behaving is probably a reaction to all that has hit our country this year. As mentioned in prior posts, even if you haven’t been directly impacted by weather and terrorism, we as a nation and union community have witnessed it via the media. We all are hurting. Cumulative stress can be a factor for some. String together a whole bunch of small events and if you reach your threshhold for coping, just one more can set you off in a tail spin. Think “snowball effect”. –This time of year is not just about Christmas and Thanksgiving. Kwanzaa is celebrated in December by African Americans, and Hanukkah can fall from late November or late December, celebrated by those of Jewish faith. Their high holy days are in September. Not all Christians observe Christmas in the same way, with decorations and gift giving, nor on the same date. Jehovah Witnesses see every day as belonging to God (Jehovah), to be honored one and the same; and Orthodox Christians (eg., Greek, Ukrainian) celebrate in early January as they follow a different calendar. This is a time of great diversity of practice and traditions, a commingling of rites from pagan times and modern interpretations of ancient religious practices. The Winter Solstice has played a part in some of our celebrations, harkening back to times before artificial light when loss of sunlight plunged the landscape into darkness and dormancy in Fall and Winter. Whole regions of farms and villages shut down to endure deprivation and the cold. Festivals of light persist to this day, reminders of those early times where light was a precious commodity and revered, morphing over time to something symbolic of hope for a brighter future as well as the return of warmth and fertile fields. –If you are not up for celebrating for any reason, remember to let your friends, family and co-workers know. A simple, `No, I am not up for it” will suffice. Stand firm. Heal. –Suffering is time limited. Put your all into healing and you can and will get through this, stronger, resilient. There is a lot of goodness, beauty and compassion in this world. It outshines dark things. Tap into that source by remaining connected to those that love and/or support YOU. Back away from energy zapping vampires and activities. Move toward goodness. That is the best holiday gift you can give to yourself. Daria M Todor ACSW, LCSW-C MAC. You can reach me at the Help Line at 877-884-6227 24/7.
Coping With Senselessness
Coping With Senselessness Trauma comes in all sizes. The murders and injuries of hundreds of innocent, music-loving concert-goers in the heart of Las Vegas has caused trauma of a magnitude too huge for most of us to imagine let alone bear. Yet bear it is what we must do. Those of you in Las Vegas have the hardest job. May you find solace in knowing that there is so much love and support for all of you throughout our country. We are here for you. You might wonder what talking to someone can do to help after an event like this. I won`t bore you with the data on this, but let me just say that we are social creatures, and we are story tellers. We derive meaning from what happens to us when we try to make sense of something especially when we tell it to someone who truly listens. We are continually telling our life`s story to ourselves. It is part of our identity. If I am anything, I am a trained listener and storyteller. I listen at many levels-for what is said and more importantly sometimes what isn`t, as well as to how and why it is expressed. I am in many ways a witness to peoples` inner worlds, and kind of like a guide that accompanies people as they travel to places too difficult to tread alone. I am privileged to be entrusted with such responsibility. I have responded to trauma during our nation`s 9/11 attacks-at first in our country`s capital, assisting DoD contractors who lost workers in the Pentagon, then flight attendants at Dulles Airport and the Flight Attendants` union office in DC, and finally in NYC across from Ground Zero. There on Wall Street in buildings I met with hundreds of workers and citizens who had been in the towers themselves and survived, or who had watched that national horror unfold from other buildings and the streets below. I was sent as a psychological first responder to help people cope in those initial days, when our world was set topsy-turvey from one of seeming safety to that of one that lost its innocence. 9/11 wasn`t my first call to duty. I have helped many workplaces, families, communities and individuals cope with trauma and loss before and since then. I have responded to bank robberies, suicides, sudden deaths of children as well as adults. I lived in the DC area when the DC snipers wreaked terror on our community (I lived less than 2 miles from the first killing). I not only had to respond to those in need psychologically, but I too had to learn how to pump gas during that time, using my car as a shield, stooping low and keeping a vigilant eye toward possible danger, then scrambling back into the safety of my car, until the shooters were apprehended. Like the Las Vegas killer, the snipers had murdered people doing ordinary things (like pumping gas, leaving a home improvement store, sitting at a bus stop). The contrast between the ordinariness of everday events and the terror they spread is what made these events all the more traumatic. I speak from experience and know that reaching out and sharing what you are dealing with is theraputic. It lessens the load. Some people say they are afraid to talk about these terrible events because they are afraid that they will start crying and never stop. Some people don`t cry at all and wonder what is wrong with them. There is nothing wrong with them. Some people just aren`t criers so if you aren`t someone that does, don`t worry if you still aren`t doing it. And if you do start, it does stop. It is time limited. That is the beauty of our bodies. It knows what it needs to do a lot of the times. Right now, many people are still in a state of shock. They feel a sense of unreality, numbness. Others can`t sleep or are sleeping too much, or turning to alcohol or drugs or tv- or computer-bingeing. The body steps in in an attempt to cope with the horror. It wants us to heal. Healing can and will occur. Thing is, we can help it along or hinder its progress. One of the best ways to help healing is to acknowledge the injuries, psychological is what I am talking about here, and allow the pain to occur. Since many of us didn`t have good education about how to do this well, it is useful to reach out to someone who can coach you toward that end. That`s where I come in. Call me. I can be reached at 877-884-6227 if you are feeling like you just need to try to make some sense of what has happened, about how to talk to your children about what has happened, about how to turn something terrible into a point of growth. And it doesn`t have to be about the shootings. Sometimes a big event like this sets off something that is seemingly unrelated. It is a trigger for something unresolved, for instance. So please don`t think you can`t call because you didn`t lose someone or you weren`t there. We all were there because we all are connected, like it or not. Know that whatever you are feeling is normal and natural in response to this terrible event. If you are feeling or thinking or behaving in ways that concern you, know that you are not alone. Most of us will get beyond this event. Those who were there or those with loved ones who were there and survived or died will be coping with this for the rest of their lives. Collectively and individually they will move through those stages of grief-shock, anger, bargaining, depression and great yearning and finally resolution and acceptance of a new reality. Those of us who weren`t there are also grieving because we have yet again lost another level of our sense of innocence and sense of safety. I hope to hear from you. In the meanwhile, take care of your self. Reach out to family and friends, eat well, get some exercise and enough sleep to fuel your days. If you have`t checked out my post of my fave 10 resources, review those and try some of those. Best, Daria Todor
Trauma Healing Timeline
Trauma Healing Timeline by Daria Todor ACSW LCSW-C MAC Early on in my career, I spoke with a client who had lost her mother a few days before her first session with me. She was new to her job so did not have enough time accrued to take more than the three days allotted to her for bereavement leave. She was fine with that, saying that it was quite good to be back at work so that she constantly didn’t have to feel her pain. Work became her therapy. It gave her a sense of mission and connection with others who were understanding. People often stopped and asked her how she was doing and followed her lead when she didn’t feel up to sharing. “People are really nice and supportive here”, she kept tellling me. We worked for a hospital where I was their in-house counselor, so yes, it was a caring place. She shared that the main reason she came in was to make sure that she “wasn’t going crazy or something.” When asked why she thought she might be, she responded, “My husband told me that there must be something wrong with me because my Mother was ‘dead and buried and that I should be over it already’.” Mind you, this was her first day back after her Mom`s funeral. She explained that she took to crying often and felt unable to cope some days, so much so that she couldn’t cook meals or keep the house tidy like she liked to. She added that her husband did not know how to cook and did not believe it was his place to clean up the house or do other domestic duties, expecting her to do it all even though both worked full time outside the house. Normally she did not mind taking on the lionshare of these domestic duties, saying it was her way of expressing love for her family. Now however she felt guilty. She no longer was able to do them. “What is wrong with me? He is so angry with me but I just can`t do it right now!” Her assessment showed a mild level of depression normal for such an early stage of a loss. She was not suicidal, could get up and ready for work and said she was able to do her job just fine. I explained that loss and trauma are energy zappers and that rather than worrying about what was wrong with her to instead focus on how to enlist the aid of her husband so that she would feel supported by him, not drained. “So there`s nothing wrong with me?”, she asked, sounding relieved. “Nope. Not a thing. It is perfectly normal to not be able to do things after we lose a loved one. And what’s more, it is normal for a lot of things to be different and out of sorts. It sounds like your hubby may not be used to seeing you this vulnerable and it may scare him.” She agreed. “He keeps tellling me that I am his rock, so yes, that is probably it.” She was able to talk with him about what was going on, sharing the “Stages of Grief and Loss’ handout I provided and asked him to help. “He even started cooking some easy foods!”, she shared. Trauma, grief and loss disrupt normal everyday feelings, thoughts and behaviors for many. Happy-go-lucky people all of a sudden lose their cool, snap at others, lose their patience. Others withdraw through oversleeping, overdrinking or zoning out in front of the tv or computer. It makes sense that these things occur because it is our way of saying to others, “I’m overloaded so don’t place any more demands on me!’ ” Our normal coping systems are sendng out these responses and are often outside of our awareness, so when we snap at a loved one we are just as surprised as they are. Things do return to normal eventually. Some traumas are short lived. Deeper traumas may drive others into longer lasting despair. A colleague of mine shared the other day that her spouse was in the Pentagon when it was hit by a plane on 9/11. He survived, but she said, “I lost my husband for a while. He was there but wasn’t there, if you you know what I mean. He withdrew from me…He had seen and experienced some horrible things and got PTSD. Certain smells and sounds would send him into a panic, and each year at the anniversary (of the attacks), he would shut down completely…He had to go on medications. “It was hard on all of us. I raised my girls without much input from him for a few years because his not being able to help much. He did get better eventually.” She grew tearful as she shared their experience. I had not known any of this and was deeply moved by the story. “Look at how long ago that was,” she said. “This was the first year where I decided not to ask anything about how he was doing on the anniversary. Later that evening he asked me why I had not and I said, ‘I decided that I would try and see if you would bring it up first because my thought was that if you seemed okay, I did not want to ruin your day.` He was okay and it was okay that I did not mention it first. It was a turning point for us, but boy it took a long time.” The saying, “there is a season…” comes in handy here. Those of you who are suffering have entered into a different type of time zone of sorts, a new season. Normal, chronological time is linear and used to measure our lives under typical circumstances. Traumatic events including death of loved ones and surviving catastrophes and violent events are not typical. So the rules kind of go out the window of our lives. Instead, we enter a healing zone where even the passage of time seems different. The best recommendation I can give anyone who has experienced something terrible like many of you have is to allow yourselves first and foremost to honor your own timetable for healing and set boundaries and rules for others to follow. Listen to your body and mind–they will tell you what you need. The grieving client mentioned earlier first needed to understand that there was nothing wrong with her. Grief became her other full time job for awhile while most other things took a backseat. Once she set boundaries with her family–by saying no to some commitments and duties–and communicated her needs, things started to change for the better.The same will be true for you. We are approaching the fast-paced, expectation-filled holiday season. I’ll be writing on the topic of coping with holiday stress soon. In the meanwhile, start making a list–not of who has been naughty or nice–but of what you can and want to do, what you need from others, while you heal. Then when you feel up to it, share those needs. I can walk you through how to do this if you need such help. I am here, 24/7, at 877-884-6227, if you need assistance with anything. Daria
May Your Days Be (Mindfully) Merry and Bright
May Your Days Be (Mindfully) Merry and Bright by Daria Todor ACSW LCSW-C MAC
It’s here. ‘Tis the season that insists we be jolly and bright. We have made it past Thanksgiving and if we let the commercial outlets and their advertising agencies have their way, we can and will be swept along to the next ones in the countdown–Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and New Years, mostly all wrapped up into one big full-court press for your attention, and oh yes, your monetary commitment to their brands. ‘Tis the season to buy, buy, buy, spend, spend, spend. That is, of course, if you are not mindful. Yes, we are now besieged by the push of the modern day Christmas Present which visits us multi-sensorily in the form of decorations, burning candles and potpourri, crisp scentful cut greens, sparkling lights, holiday carols and made-for-holiday movies on just about every channel cable, dish or the Internet has to offer. Much is well intended, an attempt to bring goodwill and great cheer while we lose precious light during Earth’s approach to the winter solstice, a Latin word which I just discovered means “sun standing still”. Remember this word, stillness. It is important. It goes hand and hand with another word of the season–silent. Both can be your friend. As I drive the nearly 30-mile one-way trip between one of my offices and home three evenings a week, I have lots of time to reflect and be mindful, a natural practice all of us have access to. Mindfulness is nothing more than being in the moment, paying attention to the details of that moment, without being caught up in the hubbub of our busy minds. I have come to love that ride–through hills and vales and curvy roads along old streams and woods, and the now-barren farmland of the region. I have learned to avoid deer that can charge out in front of me by attuning to my surroundings, noticing their eyes, silver dots reflecting the light of my Jeep, as these creatures stand in the inky black darkness of the sheltering woods. I even stopped in time to avoid a ruffed grouse as it crossed the road, its plumage in full display, clumsy in its passage before my startled mind. Had I been lost in the jumble of thoughts, I know I would have missed all of the splendor nature has to offer. Most nights I open my sun–or in this case–moon roof and peer up to behold celestial splendors. It is said that night travelers find treasures in such darkness. It is true. I would not have believed it had I not taken the time to pay attention. Mindfulness, as defined by a site devoted to this topic [Mindful.org] is the “basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.” It states that mindfulness is simple because it “begins and ends in the body. It involves taking the time to pay attention to where we are and what’s going on, and that starts with being aware of our body.” HOW TO DO IT Mindfulness practice couldn’t be simpler. There is Mindfulness meditation (Mindfulness with a capital ‘M’), a formal practice where mindful.org tells us to “take a good seat, pay attention to the breath, and when your attention wanders, return. By following these simple steps, you can get to know yourself up close and personal.” But there is mindfulness with the lower case ‘m’–less formal and utterly natural. We all do it, each and every day, without knowing it. The antidote to all the craziness of this season is to bring our actions and thoughts into awareness and cultivate those that are helpful. I will be sharing ways to be mindful. The first part will be an overview, listed below. I will share other ideas in another post, with more details. START WITH A PLAN. As with any journey, we need to know where we are going. We need to take charge of our lives by setting our intentions for the season, mapping it out and then following our own values and sensibilities. The other choice is to follow someone else’s lead. Look. If we let ourselves passively go along with the ever powerful commercial and concerted push for a holiday made by advertisers and others, all we need do is go along and not think about it. That is what they hope we all will do. To not think. They are banking on it! Example of a holiday mission statement: “My/our mission is to decide what it is we are celebrating, how we will do it, and then sticking to that plan”. THE MINDFUL HOLIDAY A-B-Cs
- ASK: Who, what, when, where, why and how? What is your, and your family (if you have one to consider) mission this holiday? Look at your life holistically. Stop. Be still. Silent. The answers will come. What will be the prevailing wind you want to capture–health and wellness, fun and frivolity, simplicity and ease, a mix? You decide. YOU. Example answers to these questions: “Who: immediate family only; What: identify what this holiday means to each of us; When: “Do we celebrate each and every day at the same level of energy and expense, or do we set aside quiet, relaxing times?”; Where: “Here, there, everywhere…away from the maddening crowds, in nature, in the city to see the decorations, both, other?”; Why: “Why, indeed. What is the reason for this season for me/us?”; and How: “How do I/we want to feel when all is said and done, and while we are experiencing it all? How do I want my bank and credit cards accounts, waistlines, waste cans (full of too much wasted paper and food) to look afterwards?”
- BRAINSTORM: Answers and solutions. Brainstorming works best when we make room for time and space. It is the process of allowing our deeper selves to come forward, without criticism from ourselves and/or others. Involve those that need to be but let the process go forward without any editing at this point. Even if you have begun your decorating, you can use this process to take control going forward. Example of brainstorming: “This holiday I want to keep it simple, stay at home, bake and make personal gifts, volunteer at the animal shelter…”
- CREATE: Your holiday. Your life as you’d like it to be. Of course, we cannot do it all. But we can approximate what we need. More to follow. Remember I am at 877-884-6227.
AFTER THE STORM
AFTER THE STORM by Daria Todor ACSW LCSW-C MAC It is only two months since the first of several calamities hit our territories and mainland, impacting many of you, your friends, families and coworkers. Man-made or natural, they hit, tsunami-like, ebbing and flowing with such force and fury, lives were forever changed. Yet as I tried researching updates in each area, I could find little to no information for the first impacted areas. I suspect, even know from previous experience, that many people are not much better off than when disaster first struck. Some even may be worse off, struggling with new problems like homelessness, illness, injury and loss of their community, even loved ones. So that leaves me wondering how you all are coping. And not just those in the disaster zones. All of us, outsiders included, were impacted because to witness suffering no matter how afar changes us. As I drove to church this beautiful Fall day through the rolling hills and farmland I moved to be near two years ago I wondered what it must be like to have lived through your respective ordeals. I mused, “What must it be like to have one`s landscape and environment that is seemingly so enduring suddenly reconfigured, even razed, by wind, rain or fire, or come to represent not fun and music but murder and mayhem such as in Las Vegas?” I tried envisioning it in the moment. Gone would be the houses of my neighborhood, festively dressed for the upcoming celebrations of Halloween and Thanksgiving. A little further along my ride are the farms with livestock and still-to-be harvested dried corn stalks. Interspersed with those are fields which are now bare, save residual broken stalks and kernels which feed foraging Canada geese and other birds taking residence from northern climes. For a moment, I looked at the fallow fields realizing what I was seeing may have approximated some of the devastation in disaster zones–great swaths of emptiness where just last week were fields full of tall corn rows or golden soy. I know. It isn`t quite the same of course. After all, these cleared fields were planned for the most part and fit within the gradual ebb and flow of seasonal changes that have gone on for hundreds of years, for generations of farming families in some cases. They are predictable, normal. Still the image was jarring in its stark contrast to the last ride I took along those curvy narrow country lanes. But less savage. Disasters are terrible in large part because of their unpredictability. Weather forecasting, even when it is spot on, still can`t say what structures or trees will stand and which ones will crumble, be uprooted or be carried away, who will live or be injured or die. No amount of warning could have prepared any of us for 50+ inches or rain, fast moving water or blazing uncontrollable fire. And those in Las Vegas had no warning at all. Man-made disasters deal a double blow because most of us understand that nature can be unpredictable and unforgiving. But when people perpetrate evil, it is something outside of our comprehension. So yes, I am thinking of all of you, wondering how you are coping. I am here at 877-884-6227, 24/7. Let me know if you are up to it. Daria