Archive of ‘Society’ category

Holiday Survival Guide – 2020 Edition

It is no surprise that our holiday season is going to look a little… different this year. As we wrap up the last two months of 2020, some may be feeling excitement as their favorite time of the year approaches, while others may be feeling anxious, dread, and sadness as they anticipate the upcoming months. Here are three realistic mental health tips to keep in mind as we enter the 2020 holiday season:

Make decisions that feel best for you.

Everyone has an opinion. Literally everyone. At the end of the day, the most important opinion to listen to when it comes to your decisions is your opinion. How are you feeling about family gatherings this year? When you think of a family gathering, do you feel a pit in your stomach or excitement? Whatever is coming up for you as you ponder upon this thought, honor it. Humans are intuitive by nature and we have an internal compass that helps us navigate through life and the difficult decisions that come with the journey. Different family members may feel differently about family gatherings this year, and that is okay! Avoid letting others dictate what you should (or shouldn’t) do; that is for you to decide. Try to advocate for yourself this holiday season by doing some self-reflection, honoring your feelings, and making (safe) decisions accordingly.

Give yourself time to grieve.

When we think of grief, we often associate it with the passing of someone we love dearly (including our beloved animals friends). Grief is also applicable to other changes in life that are less commonly recognized, such as the ending of a relationship or friendship, moving to a new city, transitioning from high school to college, transitioning from college into the working world, and even the ending of a habit, routine, or aspect of one’s life that was previously enjoyed. The connection between all these events is that they are major life transitions, both expected and unexpected. The COVID-19 pandemic certainly falls under the umbrella of unexpected changes! Once these transitions occur, we then experience an internal understanding that life is not going to be the same moving forward. Grief is a natural response to loss; it is not a comfortable experience, but it is an important part of the life journey for human beings. So, what do we do to help process these heavy, uncomfortable, and confusing feelings? We acknowledge them, feel them, and honor them. For healing to begin, the pain and uncomfortable feelings must be faced and not denied. If denied, the grieving process is prolonged. Remember, there is no right or wrong way to grieve and each individual person has a grieving process that is unique to them. For this reason, do not let anyone tell you how to feel, and do not tell yourself how you should feel either.

Make time for yourself.

Self-care is something that is often talked about yet rarely understood. At its core, it is all about carving out time for yourself to do something that brings you joy. It helps refuel us rather than take energy from us. What do you need to feel your best? Is it exercise, quiet reading time, or just a moment to sit in quiet? Self-care doesn’t have to consume hours of time, simply being aware of what you need to feel your best and being intentional about carving out time to make it happen over the course of a week, may be the act that you need to remind yourself that no matter what happens, you have your own back.

With this in mind, know that there is no “right” way to do the holidays this year other than what feels right for you and those you love. We must remember to respect the decisions of others without judgement and apply this same understanding and respect to ourselves. If you are feeling on the fence about making a decision or don’t quite know what your comfort level is just yet, check out this helpful article by the CDC regarding how to safely gather this holiday season. Well wishes and safety to everyone this holiday season.

Written by: Taylor Vest, LPC-Intern Supervised by Karen Burke, LPC-S, RPT-S

Kings & Queens: Tips from a Therapist on Coming Out

In honor of October being Coming Out Month, I wanted to write a blog very near and dear to my heart. Easily over half of my clients identify as LGBT, non-traditional, non-monogamous, and have some form of a coming out story. Whether they did not feel attracted to the opposite sex, they did not identify as the sex they were born, or the idea of a traditional monogamous marriage was not attractive to them, over 60% of my clients have had to go through the mystical, terrifying, and liberating experience of coming out. 

If you are questioning your sexuality, myself as well as the folks at Austin Family Counseling want to reassure you that you do not have to go through this alone. Coming out itself is a very isolating experience, and given the current pandemic, we need as little isolation as possible. Per my previous blog, social distancing does not mean emotional distancing. When a human comes out to their friends, family, and coworkers, their need for emotional support is so strong as it is one of the most vulnerable times of their lives. 

Below are helpful suggestions from an out-of-the-closet gay man turned therapist to the LGBT community of Texas who had his own share of struggles coming out in early adulthood. These tips are generalized as every person’s story is unique and beautifully different. 

Know Who Your Cheerleaders Are and Are Not

As the great Dr. Brene Brown talked about in her book “Daring Greatly”, all of us in some way, regardless of if we have a coming out history, are walking into some kind of arena in life. We are showing up and being seen, regardless of where we are. And in this metaphorical arena she has so beautifully drawn, all of us have the Support Section. This is the section closest to the arena where the cheerleaders in our lives belong—the people who get the closest and most intimate perspective of our struggles. And these people we absolutely need in our lives when we come out.  Siblings are often the first people who non-heteronormative people come out to first. They can also be parents, close friends, teachers, counselors, mentors, and close relatives. Consider who is going to be cheering you on and in your corner when you come out. Messages like “This does not change how much I love you”, “We are still your friends regardless”, “We love you no matter what” are messages that ideally should be told to someone who is so vulnerable when coming out. 

Being someone’s cheerleader when they come out does NOT sound like: “Well, just don’t hit on me if you are gay”, “It’s okay, I won’t tell anybody”, or “It’s okay, God will forgive you.” There are sadly still families who disown their children for coming out, and in lieu of the recent banning of Conversion Therapy this is a form of emotional and psychological abuse that has no place in our current climate. 

Be Mindful of What Could Change

Since coming out can be such a freeing and liberating experience, it is almost counterintuitive to say that there can be “consequences”. As mentioned above, some families disown their relatives for coming out (the amount of homeless LGBTQ youth makes up 40% of the entire minor homeless population). Some workplaces still discriminate against LGBTQ employees for coming out at the workplace. Though we should ALL be able to live authentically as our out and proud selves, I know several clients and several close friends who have had an adverse experience when coming out to their friends and family. 

Be Mindful of Mental Health

Bias aside, it is almost always better if you have a therapist to stay with you during the coming out process. As mentioned, coming out can be very isolating and is linked to depression, anxiety, compromised immune systems, suicidal thoughts, and drug and alcohol abuse. In extreme cases, some people never come out of the closet and suffer from very high anxiety and feel obligated to live a double life which can be very harmful for mental and physical health. 

Bullying Sadly Still Exists in 2020

I am filled in by a lot of my queer teens and early adults who sadly experience an enormously high level of bullying both in person and through apps like Instagram and Snapchat. Teens who are forcibly outed are prone to suicidal thoughts, feelings of humiliation and embarrassment, and lower senses of self esteem. Having gone through my own fair share of bullying in high school, I am fully empathetic to how painful and scary repetitive bullying can be. 

Bullying for queer people can also be present in the adult world. As women, racial and cultural minorities, and persons with special needs can empathize with, bullying in the workplace is alarmingly common. Workplace discrimination based on sexual identity is still sadly alive and well. However, if bullying in any capacity (from coworkers, managers, supervisors, bosses, etc) is present, it is NEVER okay and does not need to be tolerated. 

FOR TEENS:

If you are an in-the-closet teen and reading this, please know I am here, I am with you, and I am here to help. I have been through some of the worst parts about coming out (before and after) and I can probably relate to the struggles of coming out in a world that is more straight-friendly. Please let me reassure you that you do not have to go through the process by yourself. One of my favorite kind of client is a teen who is going through the coming-out process as I was there not TOO long ago. 😊 If you are not in a place to tell your parents why you need counseling for coming out, feel free to email me at [email protected] with questions about resources I can give you—and there are plenty in Austin! 

Written by: Ian Hammonds, LPC, LMFT

Looking for more resources? Click here!


Self-Care During COVID-19

For curiosity sake, I searched “what to do if I get covid-19”.  In 0.77 seconds (because Google tells you), “about 8,280,000,000 results” populated.  Various questions that were included in these results included:

  • What to do if you are sick? 
  • What should I do if I think I have been exposed to coronavirus? 
  • Can you recover? 
  • Does drinking a lot of water help flush out COVID-19?
  • Can antibiotics treat the coronavirus disease? 
  • What should you do if you live with someone who has coronavirus? 

Without a doubt, these questions are important and should be asked and are included in the top results for a reason.  Someone I know shared on her Instagram feed that she was tested positive for COVID-19 and the conversation was, I’m summarizing, something along the lines of “Hi, you’ve tested positive.  Now you need to quarantine for (however many) days.  If you experience severe symptoms, go to the hospital.”  Of course, that was (and is) important information for her to know.  However, nothing was discussed regarding the emotional impact of COVID-19 (whether it’s the collective/societal impact of the virus or the personal impact of testing positive).  Below are a few things to consider when thinking about the current pandemic. 

First…Let’s Talk About Shame

Several months ago, someone I know was exposed to COVID and was tested as a result.  When she received her test results (they were negative), she shared how excited she was because there is so much judgment around it.  She said, had she gotten positive test results, people would have likely judged and/or blamed her for clearly not following the rules of social distancing.  Similarly, a friend of mine found out she was positive for COVID and shared that when she told people she had come in contact with that she was positive for coronavirus, she felt like she was sharing with the world that she had a sexually transmitted infection (which there is a LOT of shame around those…that’s a blog for another day.  In the meantime, check out this poster from UnHushed, that provides accurate & direct information about STIs). 

Oh, And Fear

There is SO much uncertainty with COVID-19 and how this virus impacts people.  Whether someone is asymptomatic, has minimal symptoms (my friend I mentioned earlier only lost her sense of smell & taste), or has severe symptoms (e.g.: has a high fever and difficulty breathing), there is truly NO telling how you will be affected until you are actually experiencing symptoms…if you, in fact, experience them.  Because the CDC is constantly learning new information, we do not have a clear idea of a lot of things…which, is NO fault of the CDC (I want to be very clear about that!)  This takes an already scary situation and makes it that much scarier…because we don’t have clear information about it and what it entails.  If that’s not scary, then I don’t know what is. 

What About Grief? 

While shelter-in-place/quarantine/social distancing (fill in the blank of what language you’ve been using) has been happening for almost 4 months now (woah), it’s been difficult…to say the very least.  Whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, humans, by nature, are social creatures.  Thanks to technology (social media, texting, video calls, Zoom…oh, Zoom), snail mail, social distance outings (if/when they feel right), people have found ways to stay connected to those that are important to them….which is great…AND there is a huge amount of loss that is affiliated with that.  You don’t need me to tell you everything that has happened as a result, but to sum a few major things up…

  • Graduations were, essentially, cancelled
  • Weddings have been cancelled and/or postponed
  • People who are pregnant are going to their appointments solo…and when they give birth, minimal people are allowed to be with them
  • As people died (whether it be COVID-related or not), loved ones had to grieve alone…or at a socially distant place
  • Vacations were cancelled

AND SO MANY OTHER THINGS.  Some of you may look at that list and think “Woah…vacation being cancelled is in the same list as people dying alone?”  And to that, I say “Yes”.  Grief and loss is not something that can or should be quantified.  At this time, the world (truly…everyone in the world) is living a collective trauma related to covid-19.  Whether you’re 17 years old in Texas…or 42 years old in Indonesia…or 5 years old in Australia…or 81 years old in Finland…we are all experiencing grief related to the coronavirus…on top of any and all stressors that life is presenting us at any given moment. 

So…What Now? 

Ready for a buzz-word?  Self-care.  Yup…it’s as “easy” as that…which, surprise, is not easy at all.  There isn’t a right-or-wrong way to practice self-care as long as you’re doing what is right for you.  The suggestions I’m about to provide are 100% just suggestions and is definitely not comprehensive at all. 

Allow Yourself to Feel Your Feelings 

A lot of us, at various times (I’m generalizing here), have experienced anger.  What we often fail to see, though, what’s below anger…whether it’s worry or disappointment or guilt or trauma (or any or none of those things), anger is often just the surface of feelings people are experiencing. 

Similarly, there is a quote, that I love that states “I sat with my anger long enough, until she told me her real name was grief.”  When you sit with this…it really reveals how complicated emotions, particularly anger, can be.

In no way am I trying to invalidate anger, however, sitting with your emotions and allowing yourself to feel your feelings is an incredibly valuable way to take care of yourself. 

This Anger Iceberg gives an explanation (and visual) of what I’m talking about. 

Practice Mindfulness

…Buzz-word #2.  Not sure where to start?  That is OKAY.  Check out this blog I wrote on 5 Mindfulness Tips & Tricks.   

Give Yourself Permission to Take a Break! 

We are inundated with highly emotional information on a daily basis…whether it’s about coronavirus, politics, murders of innocent black members of our community, or anything else–it’s OKAY to take a break.  Admittedly, this has been harder for me to do (I’m human…what can I say?)  But if you don’t allow yourself to take a break from the emotional weight of this information, you are not going to be the best version of yourself when you need it most.  Whether taking a break involves turning off the news or social media and reading a memoir about your favorite Queer Eye member (ahem, JVN), do what’s best for you and know that it is okay (and extremely valuable) to take breaks. 

Lean On People

Cue “Lean On Me” by Bill Withers. 

The words of this song (yes, I listened to it as I wrote this) state:

Lean on me, when you’re not strong
And I’ll be your friend
I’ll help you carry on

You just call on me brother, when you need a hand
We all need somebody to lean on

People, again, I’m generalizing, often feel hesitant to ask for help.  Whether it’s fear of looking weak or not wanting to be a burden or not wanting to be disappointed…we tell ourselves SO many lies as to why we shouldn’t or couldn’t ask for help.  Rather than listening to those lies, remind yourself, as I said earlier, humans are social creatures by nature.  Whether it’s your friend, a family member, your therapist, your former teacher, your neighbor…whomever it may be…ask for help.  It might be scary in the moment, but I can assure you it will be worth it. 

By: Julie Burke, LPC
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