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


Child & Adolescent Nutrition 101

Early childhood and adolescent nutrition is a lost educational opportunity in many sectors. There are a few ways to approach the introduction of foods to a child at an early age for them to develop a healthy relationship with food from birth. Here are a few of my tips I give to parents and adolescents to help them shape a healthy relationship with foods and their bodies.

Remember to include a variety of foods on the plate.

Whether color, textures, flavors, or nutritional components (carbohydrates, proteins, fats, additional micronutrient rich foods like fruits/vegetables).

Remember to not ‘force’ your child to eat just because it’s a designated ‘meal’ time.

Provide them with a variety of foods on a plate and trust and nurture the idea that when your child is hungry they will get to the food that has been prepared and plated for them.

Allow your child to have at least 10 exposures to a food before deciding that they don’t ‘like’ it.

Research from the American Journal of clinical nutrition shows increased acceptability of foods after 8-10 of repetitive exposure. Just because your child doesn’t like a food the first time they try it, doesn’t mean they actually don’t like it, it may be that they have never experienced that flavor, texture, smell, etc, and will develop tolerance to it over time.

Mirror a healthy relationship with food yourself (inclusion of all foods).

Children heavily rely on learning cues from adults and older siblings, so your relationship with foods and the terminology you use around foods (good v bad foods) molds your child’s view of food too.

Secondary to childhood, adolescence is a time in which a child’s relationship to food and their bodies’ can be highly sensitive. And the education surrounding adolescent nutrition is heavily laced with dieting messages, which promote the development of disorder eating, eating disorders, low self-esteem, low self-worth, etc. Society relies heavily on media (social, TV, ads, magazines, etc.) to give our kids the information that they need in regards to caring for themselves well and making sure they know why food is important. Hard facts are that they get incredibly misinformative information that is entrenched  in what we know as DIET CULTURE. 

DIET CULTURE is known to be a system of beliefs that worship ideals surrounding thinness, equating it to moralistic virtues of more acceptability, love, and overall worth, regardless of true health status/vitals. 

Diet Culture gives very sneaky messages surrounding food holding moralistic weight/value. In the most general sense, food serves the purpose to nourish and nurture growth and development in adolescence. Engagement in dieting behaviors, can increase risk for malnutrition, delayed development/growth, and bone fractures/breakage. 

Here’s some ‘go-to’ basic nutritional information surrounding the value of all foods: 

Carbohydrates (no matter the source-whether ‘refined/white’ or whole grains): are broken down by the body and converted to glucose (blood sugar) to help cells have the energy needed to send signals to different parts of the body for functioning; Provide the brain exclusively with the energy it needs to think and process information clearly and effectively; Provides energy for organ/organ systems to run at optimal capacity.

Proteins (no matter if it’s higher or lower in fat content): Provides energy for muscle, cell, and tissue repair, growth, and regeneration (creation). 

Fats (no matter the source-whether saturated (animal sources) or unsaturated (plant sources): Provide energy for body temperature regulation; energy needed for absorption of vitamins & minerals; energy needed for protection of vital organs; energy needed to facilitate hormone balance (develops in adolescence-estrogen, progesterone, testosterone).  

For additional resources and materials surrounding Childhood & Adolescent Nutrition from an Intuitive Eating and Health at Every Size (HAES) lens, check out:

Books:

Intuitive Eating Workbook for Teens: A Non-Diet, Body Positive Approach to Building a Healthy Relationship with Food

By: Evelyn Tribole & Elyse Resch

Born to Eat 

By: Leslie Schilling & Wendy Jo Peterson

Celebrate Your Body (and its changes, too!): The Ultimate Puberty Book for Girls

By: Sonya Renee Taylor

Videos:

Poodle Science

Research on Food Exposures:

https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/issue/109/Supplement_1

Written By: Tess M Patterson MS RD LD


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


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