Archive of ‘Family Time’ category

Once Upon A Year Into the Pandemic…

As we approach this harrowing year-long anniversary of the pandemic, or at least of the collective awareness and general quarantine period of it, it feels important to honor the horror we have witnessed. You might be experiencing the pandemic personally via loss of a loved one, shifting or lost work, social isolation, or perhaps your role has been more of a distant observer, or even seeing it through the lens of survivor’s guilt. Regardless of role or impact, we are currently living inside of an ongoing, slow-rolling, ever-unfolding collective trauma. Using imaginal tools can create some underworld and overworld understanding that is digestible while making personal meaning of this era. While many possible gifts have emerged, of note: the reconsideration of our shrine dedicated to “busy,” and a questioning of our ever-quickening pace; it is fair to say we are living in terrible times. Both Joseph Campbell and T.S. Eliot noted the world as a possible “wasteland,” yet used narrative and imaginal tools as a framework to withstand and even deepen psychological capacity. Campbell duly noted that by using myth we can vitalize ourselves, thereby creating vitality in the world around us (1988).

While there is medicine in creating a “normal” routine and buoyancy where possible, I wonder from a depth psychotherapeutic perspective, how healing it might be for us to incorporate the horror of this time more intentionally. This honors any upset and makes room for collective and personal grieving. Using the tools of the imagination is one way to incorporate the discomforting parts of the pandemic, both personally and clinically. Imagination can be used to meditate horror, or our reaction to horror, which is generally fear. Or it might be channeled to imagine and incorporate alternate endings, thus promoting hope. Equally, it can enable a deeper, storied processing of the events.

Trauma and Imaginal Healing

We know that trauma interrupts critical pathways in the brain that can impact, among many other things, the region that regulates negative emotionality. Through James Hollis’ analytic work and research in Houston, expressive arts were seen to “reactivate those portions of the brain and reinstate growth” (2000, p.9). Donald Kalsched, largely known in the depth psychoanalytic and trauma field, has cohered that the imagination “helps us integrate body and mind, affect and image, conscious and unconscious” (2020). And image is naturally the way we witness fantasy, creativity, and make meaning of the day-to-day world we encounter as a conscious species. 

“There is a mystery about this which stimulates the imagination; where there is no imagination there is no horror.”

– Sir Arthur Conon Doyle

Children teach us that holding space for the horrific can be healing and normalizing. Ask a young child to tell a story and many will quickly turn to the grotesque or the monstrous. They may even laugh while recalling a grim story from a book, or poke with curiosity about a character that gives them nightmares. Before defenses get installed into their hard-drive, so to speak, children are mostly comfortable with shadow-incorporation. Imaginal work offers a relatable, archetypal path to feel into what is dark, as a way to integrate wholeness into our psyches.

Why Honor the Imagination?

Before there was language, there was image and story. We have evidence of this, for one, in archaic cave paintings. It is encoded in our brains to storytell, and recognize patterns of story. We are narrative beings, and images are some of the ways our psyches take in and experience information. We speak in symbol. Our dreams speak in symbol. 

At times, especially in times of grief, language can feel limited. Even our common sayings point to this: there are no words, I am speechless, etc.

In the trauma world, often images are used to first encounter how something may have gotten storied in the psyche. Making use of the imagination which can coalesce and transmute images, somatic sensations, emotions, the ineffable– is a comprehensive way to “meet” what is showing up. 

Imagination is more important than information 

-Albert Einstein

Honoring imagination enables us to tap into our own narrative or the stream of archetypal patterns from the collective unconscious. In this primordial stream, we can encounter recognizable archetypes, or patterns of behaviors, alongside images that might resonate. As a meaning-making species, it can be healing to know that we are familied and recognized in other stories that exist outside of our own heads. We already, perhaps unknowingly, are in contact with archetypes, explored through film, books, video games, and Greek myths. Even our social media platforms respect the human propensity to narrativize as a way to connect, through Stories.

Using fairytales as an example of this work; you might immediately recall a tale that was once treasured as a child. This is one way we can tap into original stories from early life that carry personal meaning. In a fairytale, it is easy to encounter internal or external characters or motifs that resonate with life, relationships, or difficult situations. As Sabrina Orah Mark said recently in The Paris Review: “The reason why fairy tales exist and thrive is because our bodies recognize them like they are our own. Our same blood type. Because we recognize wolfwitchforestkisscursespellmother, the stories latch” (2020). Mark is noting that the stories “latch” because they are archetypal in form and as ancient as humanity. They carry patterns and a common language of relating to, or of rejection, or of horror, pain, beauty, protection. 

What Does Working Imaginally mean?

Working imaginally is flexible and spontaneous. Engaging with inner figures, with archetypal characters within and through myth, narrative, fairytale, etc, is vivifying. For some clinicians, it might mean play therapy, unstructured play, or sand tray. For others, expressive arts techniques are used. Narrative and drama therapies can assist in tapping into image. With depth psychotherapeutic training and a trauma-focus, I tend to use the tools of fairytale analysis, expressive arts, dreamwork, and classical Jungian sandplay as clinical tools.

Meanwhile, I invite you to honor your original images by revisiting your favorite fairytale from youth during this pandemic anniversary. Sit down, really sink into the tale and notice what comes up.

Resources:

Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth. (1988, June 21). The Hero’s Adventure [Video File]. Retrieved from: https://billmoyers.com/content/ep-1-joseph-campbell-and-the-power-of-myth-the-hero%E2%80%99s-adventure-audio/

Hollis, J. (2000). The archetypal imagination. College Station: Texas A & M University Press.

Kalsched, D. (2020). How the Corona Virus is Re-wiring our imagination [lecture transcript]. 

Written by: Ash Compton, LMFT-Associate, EMDR-Trained Supervised by Susan Henderson, M.Ed, LMFT-S, LPC-S


Building a Strong Long-Distance Military Relationship

I personally didn’t ever expect myself to marry a military soldier due to being afraid of the possible distance. It is emotionally draining being away from your partner for months or maybe even years. No matter how many times the separation occurs, it seems to be just as intimidating. Here are some helpful hints to get in a positive groove with your military spouse or even a long distance partner. 

1. Talk about the upcoming separation

Before it even happens, it’s extremely important to sit together and share what your fears are about the soon-to-be distance. Allow each partner to share without interruption and brainstorm ideas together to make them feel less scary. Throughout the separation continue talking and bringing up new fears and emotions that pop up before they become a bigger problem. 

2. Keep active and stay busy

Whether that’s picking up a new hobby, being outside with nature, surrounding yourself with loved ones, or creating a daily routine, do whatever you can to distract yourself so you don’t feel alone at your own home.

3. Discuss how you will stay in touch

Schedule a daily or weekly time to talk on the phone or video sessions. It gives you a positive part of your day to connect and look forward to together. Even talk about the type of communication you would feel closest to.

4. Continue to make plans together

Plan vacations that you will take together once reunited again. Plan smaller activities you took for granted and want to do together again, such as biking, kayaking, or taking the dog on a walk. This really helps with providing reassurance that life will be back to normal again some day.

5. Kicking it back to pen pals

Write letters to each other and send care packages. Share about your day or how much they mean to you or what emotions are coming up for you as you’re writing. Receiving mail from your partner is a way to make anyone smile and think of you. 

6. Seek support if needed

This could mean staying at a family’s house or seeing friends over the weekends. This could also mean seeking a therapist for an additional safe space to process.

7. Distance gives you the opportunity for the heart to grow fonder

This is the chance to really test your communication skills and prove yourself as a couple. You will learn how to communicate about aspects that haven’t come up before. This distance is also a reminder of the good times and how thankful you are for them.

8. Be flexible and open-minded

The military will control your partner’s schedule and it will be frustrating when you just want to see or talk to them. If you don’t already know, ask and understand why your partner is in the military and how it benefits both of you. 

9. Have shared experiences together

Read the same book or listen to the same music playlists and compare notes and opinions. Use technology to watch movies or shows together or even play games online at the same time. This provides some type of normalcy of being together even if it’s through a screen.

10. Acknowledge this is not easy

This is an experience not everyone goes through and is extremely hard. The best way to get through this time is to work together as a couple. Establish mutual trust, honesty, respect, and remember you are both going through a challenging time. Remind your partner that you love them.

Written By: Sumayah Downey, MA, LPC-Associate, NCC Supervised by Cristy Ragland, LPC-S, LMFT-S, RPT-S


Adversity is a Great Teacher

As I am sitting here writing this blog, it is hard to believe that we are already in 2021!  I am sure many people will agree with me that 2020 has been quite a challenging year to remember.  It was a year filled with sorrow, laughter, anger, hope, frustration, surprises, despair, love, just to name a few.  Can you believe we have survived all that?  We always hear people saying that life is full of ups and downs – to say that for year 2020 is just an understatement.  For me, personally, I have learned how to accept the ups and downs, embrace emotions (both positive and negative), and adapt to the environment with intention and meaning.  I have learned not to be afraid of challenges but instead acknowledge them, take care of them and ask ourselves how we can turn these experiences into valuable life lessons.  I would like to share with you some of the things I have learned in 2020:

Accepting the Uncertainty

Life is uncertain.  There is never a time, even before the pandemic, when we can have any certainty of what is going to happen in the next minute.  The only thing certain is the present moment and our actual experience of the moment.  As Eckhart Tolle puts it: “People don’t realize that now is all there ever is; there is no past or future except as memory or anticipation in your mind.”  It is only natural to feel stress in the face of uncertainty. Staying in the moment and be present has helped me face and accept uncertainty, and manage the stress of uncertainty.  Do not be afraid of uncertainty, learn to accept and face uncertainty with resilience and ease.  Together, let’s find peace in uncertain times.

Power of Mindfulness

Practicing mindfulness has helped me turn my attention to the present moment.  We should not dwell on the past or worry about the future, instead, we should focus on the present moment.  Practicing breathing exercises and meditation throughout the day have helped me tremendously in the past year, these practices truly taught me how to be present with a non-reactive mind.  I am also discovering how to incorporate mindfulness in daily living – mindful eating, mindful parenting, and mindful exercising.  If we practice focusing on the present moment, it empowers us to be with it, and we start to find ease of living.  I invite you to try these practices, even for just 2-minutes a time, you will see a difference!

The Importance of Connection

Separation is definitely one of the most challenging things we had to face in year 2020.  The pandemic has kept us all physically distanced from one another.  Many of us felt isolated and frustrated in our social distancing, but many found new meaning and connection with each other.  We have learned to make connection with each other in many different ways — saying hi to our neighbors from a distance underneath a mask, having “zoom” holiday meals with our friends and relatives, sending kisses to our elderly relatives at a nursing home through the windows, seeing clients via telehealth, etc.  As human beings, we instinctively need to connect with others, but to be able to build solid human connection, you have to first connect with yourself.  Doing mindful check-ins throughout the day to get in touch with my own feelings where I pause, take a deep breath, acknowledge how I am feeling right here and right now and how I would like to proceed with this moment have really helped.  Make space for self-reflection each day, it can bring clarity to the moment.

Practice Positive Mindset

Every cloud has its silver lining, but whether you see it or not is a choice you make. Focus on what you control, do not stress over things you cannot control. The year 2020 can be a difficult year to love, but if we just look on the positive side of things, I promise you can find something you are grateful for.  Just as importantly, whatever does not kill you makes you stronger. 

It Is Okay to Reach Out for Help

Believe this, we are all in this together.  You are not the only one suffering, you don’t have to do this alone.  Don’t be afraid to reach out to someone you trust, or seek therapy if you need to.  Your mental health is just as important as your physical health.  Take care of your whole body, inside and out.

Create Your Own Happiness

Take responsibility of your own happiness, never count on someone or something to make you happy.  You don’t find happiness, you create it.  Many people think that only if the pandemic is over then things will get back to normal and they will be happy.  No.  If you think that way, you will never be happy.  Happiness can be created, under any circumstances, by you.  If you take charge, you will find your own happiness.

Resilience

You are more resilient than you think.  We went through a lot in 2020 – the pandemic, economic crisis, lockdowns, the politically polarized election, the racial justice movement, RBG death, just to name a few. We all have the strengths inside us to overcome life challenges.  “It is worth remembering that the time of greatest gain in terms of wisdom and inner strength is often that of greatest difficulty.” – Dalai Lama

Make Self-Care a Priority

We are always busy helping and taking care of others that we often forget to take care of ourselves.  Get to know yourself, be truthful to yourself and find out what your true needs are.  Only when you take care of yourself you can then have the capacity to take care of others and be able to get through tough times.

Thank you, 2020, for all you have taught me!  Hello, 2021, I am ready to take on challenges that you are sending my way this year!  I look forward to learning and growing to be a better person one moment at a time.  “No one has ever lived in the past or the future, only the now.” – Thich Nhat Hanh

Life can be challenging at times, but it can also be amazing!

“Life gives you plenty of time to do whatever you want to do if you stay in the present moment.” – Deepak Chopra

What have you learned in 2020, and how you are going to move forward in 2021?

Written by: Catherine Mok, M.A., LMSW Supervised by Melissa Haney, LCSW-S

1 2 3 11