The Depression Project...

Are you worth 20 minutes? If you are suffering from depression you probably think you're not. So let me help you. I think you're worth it - whoever you are - I think you are worth 20 minutes. So here is your homework... I get that seeing as how you are suffering from depression, the last thing you want to do is something for yourself but bear with me. You have 23 hours and 40 minutes to give over to your depression - I am only asking for twenty minutes. Is this going to be easy? Hell no! Does it sound like a bunch of crap? Probably. Is it doable? Hell yes.

Here is your task for the next week. Give yourself twenty minutes. Get up, get dressed, and go outside. You can just stand there for the rest of the twenty minutes (Because I am accepting that included in the twenty minutes is the time it takes to get up, get dressed ....). If you have the energy - walk for the rest of the twenty minutes. If not.... stand there. Outside. Rain or shine or snow or whatever ... but hold on that's not all.

Please answer the following questions:

What colour was the sky?
What was the weather like?
What did it smell like outside today?
Did you happen to feel a breeze on your face?
What was the first thing you noticed when you stepped outside?
What did you hear?
If you walked, what did you notice on the ground?
If you stood there, what did you notice around your feet?
What sounds did you hear?
Where there any birds? Dogs? Cats? Squirrels?
If so how many?

There ... that's it. Can you do this every day for a week? If you like - leave your posts. Watch what happens. Share with us.


How do you help someone who comes and presents with loneliness as their major problem? Loneliness is crippling. The human soul being what it is, needs connection – like a plant needs air, light and water. Plants don’t thrive when any of these are not present and in similar fashion, a human soul does not thrive without contact.

As a good therapist, you sit and listen, you validate that yes indeed, this is a difficult passage – but what should someone do?  My goal should be to help you find the tools to overcome what you’re struggling with, develop the skills you need to make the connections you need to help you thrive.

Sounds easy doesn’t it? I know it’s not. Loneliness, probably a twin of depression, is debilitating. Left on our own, our brain has a way of beginning to churn and develop beliefs that are poisonous. A weight sets in that makes one lethargic, we begin to cave inward, and after not too long a while we even push away those that attempt to make contact with us, even though what is left of our rational brain yells inside not to do so. Some of us probably drink more, eat more, watch more TV or spend more time on our mind numbing computers in order to alleviate the loneliness. Some become promiscuous, dangerous, abuse themselves, some of us shop and spend, some of us sleep, all in a bid to cope with loneliness.

The hard truth is the only anecdote to loneliness is in fact connection. The only way I know of to make that happen is to have the faith in yourself that you can handle what the world has to offer you – and then, contrary to how your lethargic, heavy, sad body feels – GO OUT AND CONNECT. Join an exercise, dance, yoga, or art class. Volunteer. Every single old age residence looks for volunteers as their “clients” are people who rarely get out of their own room on any given day – they CAN’T – and while you may feel like you “can’t” either – I would argue that your “can’t” is more of a choice than theirs. Other volunteer ideas include Big Brother and Big Sister organizations, hospitals, food banks … the list really is limitless.  

Sometimes we believe that the weight, resistance, lethargic part of ourselves is “proof” that we are not yet ready to get out there. Sometimes we use that weight as proof that no one would want to connect with this heavy energy we carry around. A big part of the antidote is believing you’re worth connecting with regardless of how you “feel”. Believing you have something important to offer someone, something of value, is the first step - and you do, we all do. That’s the beauty of being a human being. We all have something to offer that is of value to those we offer it too. Now go… find that connection. You’re worth it.

The Seduction of Stress…..

It’s standard practice for any doctor to ask what level of stress a patient is under. I have begun to wonder how people might come to understand the answer to that question. Most of us work hard, have kids, busy lives, complicated families, difficult co-workers and the list goes on. Add to that – many of us live in noisy, crowded cities with lots of traffic, construction and pollution. We are bombarded daily by television, email, advertising, pressure to spend, save, buy, advance, get educated, get richer, parent better, be a better partner and the list goes on… feeling stressed yet? The funny thing is many of us experience all of the above, on any given day, and do NOT consider ourselves stressed. I wonder why. To me the answer lies in the human being’s brilliant capacity for adaptation. We acclimatize. Our homeostasis goes up along with the amount of stress we are experiencing so that after a while every little increase becomes “normal”.

And what of those of us who grew up with rockier than normal childhoods. What about kids who live under a constant siege of stress and anxiety for any number of reasons: fighting and violence, depression in either parent, poverty, alcoholism, drug abuse, sexual abuse, mental illness, narcissism, perfectionism … if you were little, and had any, some or all of the above going on in your environment as you were growing up, chances are you can tolerate a lot of stress as an adult. What is someone’s homeostasis that has grown up under siege? How do you learn to understand or recognize what is too much stress – too much as though any were a part of the normal experience of living.

Some of us are more attuned to our bodies and through that relationship recognize when things are getting out of whack – catching more colds, feeling exhausted, having stomach ailments, we use these as signals that we are “stressed out” … because somehow looking around at all we cope with on a given day, or what we’ve coped with in the past, doesn’t seem to register in our brains – so it registers in our bodies. What would it take to understand what “normal” stress is supposed to feel like. How does one undo the ravages of a childhood under siege?

And what of the seduction of stress? In our culture and society we are rewarded for taking on more, doing more, having more, being more…. And if we suck it up and tolerate the significant amount of stress that is without a doubt required for living that big – we are almost heroes. “Wow, s/he can really do it all!” the crowds whisper under their breath … and so we are seduced into taking on more. The praise and recognition we get seems to feed us into taking on more – and as we do, we find ourselves becoming increasingly unhappy on the inside. When praise and recognition come from the outside it’s fleeting at best, not tangible, and given the price we pay, not sustainable. 

I think it behoves each of us to examine the toll that “stress” is taking on our bodies, minds and lives. Some of the tell tale signs of the price we pay include constant worrying, difficulty sleeping, feeling resentful for the lack of time you accord yourself and the things that are meaningful to you. What would it cost you to turn your attention to that – the meaningful part of your life? I believe strongly that better choices are available to all of us – choices to live a calmer, more centered life. I believe too that it takes a lot of inner strength to allow that calm to exist. We are creators of our lives and environment and to the degree that we have the power to shape our world, we can choose to resist the temptations and seduction of stress. We are worth so much more.


Thoughts on Menopause....

Menopause news that may be useful to you….

I recently had an appointment with Dr. Oommen at Cardiogenix. I was put in the unfortunate position of needing to go to private health care as I was yet again abandoned by our public health care system. That being said – I got my full on medical check up and had some very interesting conversations with Dr. Oommen – yes, believe it or not I get the time with him to have conversations.

We were discussing various menopausal symptoms, one of them being the weight gain at this time that so many women are concerned about. He had such a fascinating explanation: Women no longer have the “aerobic activity” of producing a period every month. We no longer have the hormonal machination going, no longer have to produce a lining in our uterus, no longer have to shed that lining, no longer have to begin the process anew every month. This, when I think about the arduous process it used to be, seems to represent quite the expenditure of energy to do – and that energy is no longer needed, and that, Dr. Oommen theorizes, has a substantial bit to do with weight gain. I’m buying into this idea.

I’d also like to share that Dr. Ooman is one of the first and only doctors I have met that understood that hormone testing is basically useless because of the great fluctuation in a woman’s body during perimenopause. Finally, a doctor that can say – we can’t tell you anything about this.

Another thing you need to know is that Dr. Oommen is a great believer in exercise being a panacea for most of our ills, and truth be told, it does resolve so many of our mid-life problems: difficulties with sleep, weight gain, mood fluctuations, stress, …. With all that help you really have to wonder why it’s so hard for so very many of us to get on the exercise bandwagon.

I really wish there were many more doctor’s like Dr. Oommen out there. It’s a shame that the profession doesn’t value the relationship with the "client" – of course I’m biased in that area but really, to treat your client with respect, to respect what they in fact know about their own bodies, that doesn’t cost you anything as a doctor.

Thanks Dr. Oommen.  

Who cares for the caregivers?

I was recently honoured to be invited as a guest speaker to a caregivers group. The group consisted of 12 people, who are all principle caregivers to loved ones with dementia, Parkinson’s, or some form of mental illness. All are suffering under the burden of care. They come to this group once a month for respite.

The theme of the meeting was meant to be about the "shift in power" in relationships; when one partner becomes ill and the other has to take over. I was prepared to talk about the shift in financial power and decision making in the couple – but as we went around the group for introductions and I heard their stories it became very clear to me that it was more specifically a shift in responsibility – and that it was not just in the financial realm but also the emotional and the psychological.

Re-framing it from a change in the balance of power, to a change in the balance of responsibility was very helpful. This was a group of 11 women and one man – I’m not sure how these women have been socialized in terms of sitting with “power” or “control”, how “what is the right thing to do” gets decided? “I am making decisions with “his” money and I feel bad about it – it’s not what he says he wants. It makes me feel guilty.” However “he” is no longer capable of being rational and so there is no easy answer, no peace. Understanding it from the point of view of responsibility, and acknowledging that there is no malice in any decision being made, brought a palpable relief to one caregiver.  

We talked about the shift in emotional responsibility. Most had partners who were not only ill but now also depressed, depression being very common among people who are conscious of their loss of autonomy, their increased dependence on others – even if it is your wife of 40 years.  So when the ill partner becomes depressed, the caretaker believes it’s impossible herself to express any frustration, sadness, or fear – after all, they are well. What about when she feels hopeless at the hugeness of the task in front of her, feels her powerlessness to affect the depression, feels overwhelmed with all the responsibility, perhaps courts a bout of depression herself?

Unanimously what helped most was their connectedness, whether to their own children, friends, or other supports – even this particular group – that support and connection helped them keep a focus. These are the people that reminded them to take care of themselves too. These are the people who lend an ear, who listen when the caretaker needs to share. These supports are life lines!

They spoke of their fear of becoming ill themselves, but not only because that in and of itself would be frightening, but they worried about who would care for them as well as their partners. Many saw the fear in their partners’ eyes when they felt ill. Life can be so very fragile; they live on the edge of it to a large degree.

What of their own loss in all of this, of a companion, a lover, a husband and wife, of someone to hold hands with, to talk to, to sing with? They come to this group to mourn that loss. I asked, “For all of you, your scripts have changed dramatically from what you had originally believed would be your life’s story, how do you cope?” One amazing woman said you learn to live day to day, you take the best that every day has to offer and you cherish it, you recognize all you have to be grateful for and you do that – revel in gratitude, it’s a day to day process.

What strength. What courage. What beauty and resilience. 

Speaking from the Heart

What are you really saying when you’re saying what you’re saying…..          
Ah, communication. Is there anything more necessary, and yet more convoluted as honest communication? We have so many ways of expressing our unhappiness, our needs, our longing – yet for the most part we choose an unauthentic and fearful way to say what we really want to say. This kind of communicating usually results in us not getting our needs met, building resentment, and greater and greater obstacles to loving, respectful, and supportive relationships.

Couples often present arguing about a specific situation: money, child-rearing, sex, yet almost always, the underlying issues are about attachment.

“I don’t trust you about money” can be translated into “I’m scared you won’t be there for me”.
“I don’t want you near me” can mean “I am so hurt by what you have done”.
“Fine then, do what you want!” often means “I feel helpless and don’t know how to fix this”. And so the dance continues.

It happens so often that we lash out when what we are really asking for is our partner to draw near, to connect – but how might they be able to do that if we are asking with bared teeth and boxing gloves out!?

I’ve also noticed this in interactions between parents and children. Sometimes we ask questions: “What are you buying that for? Why are you dating him/her?” when what we are really saying is “It’s hard for me to let you go”.

Miscommunication also happens in the receiving of messages – so that when we say to our children “That’s not what I would have done!” our children hear “You can’t make any good decisions at all can you!?” – and so it goes, the long and winding road of misunderstanding.  

In your next conversation, might you be able to challenge yourself and speak from the heart? What might be the barrier between authentic communication and the tension-filled accusations that serve as “talking” now? Is it riskier to say “I need you?” or “I’m scared” than it is to begin that old argument about who is going to pay what? Humans have a tendency of confirming their own worst fears. Ironically, we do that when we don’t communicate effectively, and then take the response to that as proof that our partners have the worst intentions.

What we don’t realize is that once we begin speaking authentically, it snowballs into a connected and respectful conversation that allows you to be heard and understood, and allows you to listen and understand. You can only grow from there.

Speaking from the heart is not a task for the faint of heart!  

What does love look like to you?

What did love look like when it first came to you? Was it anxious? Was it cool and remote? Was it warm, protective and soothing? Was it chaotic? Was it overwhelming?

I have been pondering of late what happens to us as we grow up with our different models of love. Do we seek out the same? If the love that you received as a child was wrapped up in anxiety, do you recognize that in your adult love relationships? Is your present day love interest aloof – like your caretaker in your youth may have been? Sometimes we find ourselves in relationships in our adulthood that are “comfortable”. Sometimes we say we “click” with someone, it’s like an old glove, it fits, we “know” this. It’s often when that happens that we believe we found the “right” one. But what if it’s a function of comfort, of not having experienced something different in order to know that difference? Time and again people tell me that they keep finding themselves in similar, dissatisfying relationships. After some work, time and again, people realize that the relationship seems to echo something they knew as children.

So what might it be like to step out of our comfort zone? For those of us who grew up with chaotic love for example, what might it be like to experience a calm, centred love? My guess is that off the bat it would feel “boring”, like something is “missing”, not exciting enough. It would feel uncomfortable because we don’t “know” it yet, we don’t really trust it, can’t predict anything. Sometimes the devil we know ….

And what if we challenged ourselves when we met a new kind of love? What if we decided that I am going to try to see past my discomfort? I suppose the challenge is how to bring together the heart – which doesn’t recognize something different and the head which is saying something different could be good and healthy for me.

I wonder too if just the act of pondering what kind of love I grew up with, and what kind of love I have engaged in in my adulthood, might shake up my inner world enough to make room for change to happen. We all deserve a healthy and nurturing love.

News! Launching of new site!

Hello one and all. Today marks the day that I am launching my new website! My absence here on the Blog is largely due to the time this new endavour has taken up. I am very proud of the new site and want to thank all those who helped as well as offered their opinions and feed back. For all those who are seeing it for the first time - I welcome your thoughts, reactions, and of course questions should you have any.

Many thanks.


Sandboxes and stones

Often in my work, as many therapists do, I use metaphor to help clients access and articulate emotions that otherwise they could not express. Today I came across one that I found moving – it was the metaphor of a sandbox, and how a partner, the boy, could not get in to the same sandbox with the girl – who was sadly, instead, throwing stones and keeping him and others out. I found that powerful. It spoke to me of child-like longing for connection, it spoke to me of loneliness – I saw this boy wanting to play, wanting to join her in the sandbox – but being prevented from doing so out of a need to protect himself. I saw a sad little boy. Conversely it was easy to imagine the sad little girl in the sandbox, so afraid is she that she needs to keep everyone out. Yet that loneliness that she experiences just exacerbates her pain, her mistrust of the world so she throws those stones with a passion that would knock Goliath out.

Who do you allow into your sandbox? Who do you allow to see your playful side? Your fearful side? Who would you throw a stone at? Who might you lay them down for? How might you reach across the sand to someone to quell their fear long enough that they might hear you say hello, it’s me, it’s ok? How do you trust that another stone won’t come hurtling toward you?

When I think about my own experience I recognize my own stone throwing going on when I worry I won’t be taken care of. So I see now that when I am vulnerable, and while it totally defeats the purpose, that is when I decide it’s time to pick up my stones and prepare to throw … just when I should be saying please come in and join me.

We are curious creatures are we not?

The Invisible Elderly

Over the holidays I had the sad misfortune.. wait let me correct that, my father had the sad misfortune of coming down with the Flu and needed to be hospitalized – on New Year’s Eve no less. When I arrived at the hospital, it seemed there were a disproportionate number of elderly suffering from dementia there – apparently also with a Flu bug.

My father suffers from Vascular Dementia. He has been on a steady decline for well over ten years now. I feel compelled to say I’m lucky because my father is compliant, easy to care for, not moody or aggressive, does not wander, yet, and in general has been more or less stable. He lives in a residence for like-afflicted folk who can get themselves to the washroom and the dining room.

Back at the hospital, the nurse tending to my father was trying to put in an IV for hydration, as he had ripped out the one before. At the same time, an elderly lady stationed next to my father was growing ever more agitated. Her dementia seemed farther along than my dad’s. She had a beard – this indicating to me that a certain level of care might be missing. There was no one there with her. She was becoming agitated because there were hospital products on her table – gauze, ointment, and so on.  The things on her table didn’t belong there – rightly so. However, no one was responding to her. No one was indicating that she was there, speaking, had a problem .. nothing. I wonder how it might have taken away from my father, had the nurse turned and said I hear you, I’ll be with you in a moment, or barring that .. how about making eye contact, smiling, nodding?

There is still a bias out in the world toward the elderly. Working for a year in long-term health care – with a population mostly stricken by Alzheimer’s disease, sensitized me to their plight. People don’t want to see the elderly, don’t want to acknowledge the decline, they see in their loved ones their own mortality. Family members of those with Alzheimer’s often admonish their loved ones for forgetting – but the stricken are not in control of that.

There is a wonderful book out – Learning to Speak Alzheimer’s, which explains to readers how to be where the loved one is. While it acknowledges the importance of the many losses, the author’s focus is on what remains of the person, what the person can still do, and on being respectful of those strengths. The author reminds us that while a person may forget how to lift a leg to get into a tub; affection, love and care still register deep within a soul and should not be forgotten.

How lovely would it be for the professionals among us to learn this as well? Everyone deserves respect. If it were to have been a healthy young person in that bed beside my father, expressing concern about something an orderly had left behind – do you imagine the nurse/doctor would have responded? I’m inclined to think yes.

Let’s stop making the elderly invisible.

The problem with the Narcissist

I was recently invited to discuss the psychological themes in the play Lies My Father Told Me, with the director for a production at a local theatre.

Without getting too much into the story – “Lies” revolves around a family growing up in post-depression Montreal, where the father could be classified as suffering from “Narcissistic Personality Disorder”.  According to the DSM IV, Narcissistic Personality Disorder is described as being “excessively preoccupied with issues of personal adequacy, power and prestige and includes a pervasive pattern of grandiosity, need for admiration, and lack of empathy”; this lack of empathy being the hallmark, in my opinion, of the Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

In Co-Narcissism: How We Accommodate to Narcissistic Parents by Alan Rappoport, he states that a large percentage of the population that come for therapy are people who have had a parent or partner with narcissistic tendencies if not out right disorders, thereby speaking to the universality of this experience.

I wonder if readers can relate to Annie’s (the wife) experience when engaging with Harry (the Narcissist) in “Lies My Father Told Me”. Annie is always shown to be “caught up” in Harry’s “energy”. Narcissists are like that, aren’t they? Charismatic, entertaining, boisterous even, looking for you to see them, recognize their greatness, cheer them on. Narcissists get excited, they love to be in the spotlight, to be the centre of attention, they crave it as a matter of fact. Their excitement is often contagious. You see Annie dancing, joyful, excited … when Harry withdraws and begins to sulk, she is left hanging. In one scene she even breaks down and weeps. I think Annie speaks to the universal experience of emptiness in a relationship with a narcissist, which is most often the reflection of the narcissist’s own deep emptiness. Narcissists can not feel empathy – so they can not really connect emotionally, or engage. This feels to the “co-narcissist” as uncaring, selfish on the narcissist’s part, and empty.

I had a colleague who was definitely a narcissist. I very much used to like this person. Of course I would, their energy was what I grew up with. I was comfortable around the gregariousness, the excitement, the self-aggrandizement. And yet, and yet – after every exchange with this person, I felt flat, empty, and sad. Because no matter how I spun our exchange and interaction, it was never between us – it was never for me, it was never reciprocal. After a while I had the clear image in my head that as soon as the person turned away I was out of sight, out of mind, and out of heart – presuming I was ever there in the first place – and I’m pretty sure I wasn’t.

Many of us who grow up with a narcissistic parent grow up with this emptiness inside ourselves. We question our own value and worth. I remember my own experience, always feeling like I needed some “hook”, some incentive, for a person to want to be in a relationship with me. I needed to offer something, give something of myself, little regard what I got in return. A dear friend and colleague of mine saw through this. When we first began our relationship I remember offering her my help with her computer, I could do this for her or that for her. Please, I begged, let me do something. I remember one day, clear as a bell, being on the phone with her – offering, offering – and her saying “No Heidi-Pie, I don’t ‘need’ anything from you, wanna go for coffee, wanna talk?’” – and I remember the image in my head of me standing there, in my mind’s eye naked – that is how vulnerable I felt being looked at not for what I had to offer but just for me. That was a pivotal moment in my life. That someone would want to engage with me, just for the sake and loveliness of engaging with me, that was a real gift. That I allowed myself to engage, feeling that vulnerable, was possibly my first real gift to myself. I know now I am worthy and deserving of real connection. Know that you are too.

What does your anxiety look like?

So many of us struggle with anxiety. In fact, some level of anxiety is just a normal experience given the world we live in. But what do we k...