Archive of ‘General’ category

Losing A Pet

Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.”

Anatole France

I’ve always been an animal lover from an early age. There was always something about animals that has continually drawn me in. I love looking into the eyes of an animal and knowing they see me too as my raw authentic self. Animals see us for who we are – truly human. They not only see us as our authentic selves, but they also harness a great capacity to love us just as purely as they see us. It’s a beautiful relationship that is unexplainable, intangible, and yet more real than many of our human relationships.

I was 23 when I got my first dog on my own. As soon as I saw her big brown eyes, I knew she was meant to be mine. Heidi was full of spunk and energy. She had a rough start to her life, and she was unsure of how to trust other humans and animals. I knew, under all that fear,  she had a big open heart and was yearning for the opportunity to be taught basic needs like love, safety, and companionship. We set out on our own adventure together, just her and I. Over the years we conquered many fears and had many laughs. She gained a few furry siblings and learned how to be a great big doggy sister. Her intelligence was unmatched as she learned commands, tricks, and even found her own way home after a Beyonce concert (That’s a story for a different post!)

Similarly to human relationships, our relationships with our furry companions also come to an end. The death of a pet is a very real, painful, and surreal experience, much like grieving a person, marriage, or job loss. The transition of losing a pet is incredibly challenging and often misunderstood. Unfortunately, I’ve had to walk this journey recently as Heidi has made her transition across the Rainbow Bridge. In my grief, I’ve noticed several things that were really crucial for me in my healing process. 

Self Care Is A Must

I can’t stress this enough – please take care of yourself in the same way you would if you were experiencing a loss of any other kind. Your body and soul will require comfort and nourishment during the time after the loss of your animal. You may find yourself feeling tired, tearful, sad, angry, confused…. All of which are normal and valid experiences of grief. Allow yourself time and space to operate at a lesser capacity than normal. Try to get an extra few hours of sleep, or have a satisfying comforting meal. Some other examples of self care for people include meditations, exercise, tending to a garden, reading a book, seeing a therapist, or journaling. Whatever your form of self care is, utilize it and allow extra time in your day for more than normal. Be kind to yourself in this tough time. 

Reach Out For Support

Grief is an incredibly isolating experience. Each person’s grief is solely their own, both in the way it is experienced and the way it is processed. However, there are people around to lean on during that time. Take advantage of your loved ones who are ready to support you in your own process. When Heidi passed, I knew there was nothing anyone could do or say to fix the pain I was feeling, but the outpouring of love and support was so helpful in those first few weeks. I had people reach out via text and snail mail to send their condolences and favorite memories of Heidi. Friends showed up with dinner at my home and sent cookie care packages to show they care. I definitely needed that love and support in that time, and I am so grateful I had people in my support system show up for me. I made sure to connect with friends and family who had also experienced the loss of a pet to feel understood and validated in my feelings, and I created boundaries around those who I felt may not have understood as well. It’s perfectly okay to limit time and energy with those who aren’t as supportive to protect your own well being and health. Set kind and firm boundaries with yourself and others around the support you need in your grief. 

Find Ways To Honor Their Memory

Just as we hope to have meaning with our own lives, it’s important to honor the meaning our pets’ lives have for us as well. Finding creative ways to honor your animal’s journey and the love you shared can be incredibly healing. Some great ideas include planting a memorial tree or garden, donating some money in their name to a local animal shelter, painting a rainbow and portrait on a canvas, or creating a digital scrapbook with pictures and videos of your life together. Create a tangible way to revisit all of your special memories with your beloved furry family member so you’ll always have a piece of them with you. 

Losing an animal is never easy. My heart goes out to those who are struggling with the loss of a pet. You deserve to be held in tenderness and compassion during your grief. Be sure to seek out counseling if you believe you could benefit from extra support and coping skills regarding the loss of your pet. There are some great resources available for those who are grieving over the death of an animal that I have found incredibly helpful during this time. 

Books: 

Always By My Side: Life Lessons from Millie and All the Dogs I’ve Loved – Edward Grinnan

Dog Heaven – Cynthia Rylant

The Loss Of A Pet – Wallace Sife

Podcasts:

The Pet Loss Podcast

Healing Pet Loss Podcast

Written by: Sara Balkanli, LPC-Associate Supervised by Lora Ferguson, LPC-S


How To Stop Being Mean To Yourself

“I’m such a burden.”

“I failed the test again. I’m never going to get any better at this.”

“They cancelled plans – they must not like me.”

“Everything I say sounds so unintelligent. I’m such an idiot.”

Any of these statements sound familiar? These statements are examples of negative self-talk. Self-talk is your subconscious inner dialogue that you engage with everyday. The average person has about 6,000 thoughts per day (Murdock, 2020). What do you notice about how you talk to yourself? How do these thoughts make you feel? If the answer is sad, unmotivated, upset, angry, or anything similar to these feelings –  chances are you are being mean to yourself.

Why are we mean to ourselves?

Our inner dialogue is shaped in childhood by the way we internalize how we are spoken to by people around us – caregivers, parents, peers, teachers, relatives. Maybe you had a teacher who said you just weren’t a good writer after failing one too many writing assignments. Maybe your parents dismissed your feelings a lot. All this to say – even though we may have internalized negative thoughts about ourselves for years, we can change these thoughts to positive self-talk statements:

1. Start with awareness.

As with any change we take on in our life – we first need to be aware that there is something that just isn’t working for us anymore. The purpose of explaining the “why” above is to create space to use curiosity (not judgement!) to discover where your inner critic comes from.

2. List evidence against your negative belief about yourself.

You may notice that you say, “I’m such a burden,” a lot. What is evidence in your life that shows that you are not a burden? Maybe you have friends that initiate plans with you. Maybe you have a partner that always asks and genuinely wants to hear about your day.

3. Create a new, positive self-talk statement based on the evidence you listed.

With the example above, the evidence shows that “I am loved”

4. Review the list of evidence often.

Keep a running list of evidence against your negative belief on your phone so that you always have access to it. Look at the list even when you are not being mean to yourself.

5. Practice self-compassion.

It takes time for these evidences to replace your long standing negative self belief – it’s like teaching yourself an entirely new language! Be kind to yourself as you navigate this process by using positive self-talk statements: “I’m doing the best I can.” “I can do this.” “I believe in myself.”

Practice using curiosity to identify your self-talk and how the statements make you feel. Therapy can support this process by providing a safe space to explore where your inner critic comes from and work on creating positive self-talk statements to replace negative ones. Wishing you healing on your journey to self-kindness!

Resources:

Murdock, J. (2020), Humans Have More than 6,000 Thoughts per Day, Psychologists Discover. https://www.newsweek.com/humans-6000-thoughts-every-day-1517963

Written by: Sarah Shah, M.S., LPC-Associate (she/her) supervised by Martha Pasiminio, LPC-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

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