Our search for meaning

When a person can’t find a deep sense of meaning, they distract themselves with pleasure.” -Viktor Frankl

Viktor Emil Frankl (26 March 1905 – 2 September 1997) was an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist. A Holocaust survivor, he was the founder of logotherapy (literally “healing through meaning”)–– a meaning-centered school of psychotherapy… (from Wikipedia)

This quote from Dr. Frankl feels like a gut punch to me. The pandemic has been a season of shifting and re-prioritizing what bring us all meaning. We’ve lost many of those “pleasures” that were a welcome distraction before the pandemic. And so much of our meaning makers have been taken away- time with friends, travel with our family, carefree time together. It’s been put on hold indefinitely.

What do we do when it feels like the rug has been ripped out from under us?

It’s a scary place to be. We have a choice to cling on to those pleasures hoping they keep us afloat until we find normalcy again (if we find normalcy again). Or we can reflect.

What is my purpose in life?

What can I contribute?

What can I give back to my family, my community?

We can start with what we have and what we value in life. And then do something small with it.

Finding meaning in your life is THE BIG QUESTION. I wonder if we’ll all look back on this season and see it as a turning point for in our lives. For now, we can spend some time reflecting on this questions.

What does burn out feel like?

By Morgan Myers, LPC

Like you’re under water. You’re paddling just to survive. It’s impossible to think about what’s best, what you need, where you’re headed. It’s a stress-filled reactive place. It’s fear and it’s survival mode. And yet it’s the temptation to run away or quit. It’s discouraged and yet not enough energy to come up with a new plan. It’s a horrible place to be stuck.

In the world we live in now, burn out is everywhere. How can we not be burned out with all the taxes on our energy leaving us exhausted. While the joys of our lives were whisked away with the rising pandemic numbers. Many of us processing our big life choices now too! All while trying to survive, keep our jobs, keep our sanity.

The only thing to do with burn out is rest. It’s not time to quit and run away, at least yet. It’s not time to make drastic changes. It’s not time shame ourselves into just TRYING HARDER. Yeah right.

Rest. Read that again. Rest. When you read that, what barriers come up to you resting? What blocks do you have?

It’s so hard to carve out space for this but it’s so important to remind yourself of the quiet and constant moments of your life. Whether that’s time at the lake, a walk, a night away in a hotel, a long drive.

If you need to talk more about burnout, contact me morgan@eastdallastherapy.com.

5 Tips for Talking to Your Child about their Differences

You (& your child) get to decide how and when to share your child’s diagnosis and details related to their functioning with people even when they ask. Being curious doesn’t entitle someone to an answer. It can be helpful to have a planned response for such times, such as: “ Thanks for being concerned/interested in (child’s name). We choose not to discuss that with you right now.” 

1. Have an “elevator pitch answer” ready to go.

Sometimes people will ask about your child’s difference and you may want a quick way to explain it. Think of this like the elevator pitch that salespeople learn. They have a speech where they can pitch their product in the time it takes the elevator to get them to their floor. I have Cerebral Palsy and my elevator speech to a curious adult is, “Thanks for asking. My diagnosis is Cerebral Palsy. It is a neurological problem caused by premature birth and it affects my balance and the tightness of the muscles in my legs.” I also explain this to kids a lot, in the playroom at work and in public places like the grocery store. I usually say something like this, “ You’re really paying attention! You noticed that I walk differently from other people. I have Cerebral Palsy, that means that my brain which is like a big computer has a little difference. Instead of telling my muscles to work like most people’s do, my brain tells my muscles to be tight all the time and my body is always a little off balance.”

2. Look to your child to see how much is appropriate to share.

If your child is able, discuss with them how and when they want to discuss their difference with friends, classmates, etc. If they are unable to communicate verbally, pay attention to the ways they do communicate with you to gauge their awareness and level of comfort with these conversations and adjust accordingly. 

3. Sometimes it’s helpful to officially share about your child’s differences

For some families, it feels most helpful to have the child address their class at the beginning of the school year and explain their difference so that they can have some more control over how their difference is understood. 

4. This isn’t the end all be all, you can adjust the way you communicate at each developmental stage.

These conversations will need to be tweaked over time as your child grows both developmentally and socially. Sometimes different people or situations will require different conversations. Be willing to shape and change your explanations, as it feels right to you, your child and your family. Trust yourself and your child when navigating these situations. Also, be patient with yourself and your child. These conversations may bring up difficult feelings or painful interactions. 

5. Remember to prioritize self-care!

Having conversations where you or your kid explain their difference can be difficult but even when they are good conversations they can still leave you feeling depleted. Self-care is important. This could be journaling, going for a run or making time to talk to trusted friends. Your child also needs self-care during this time. It can be time alone doing a favorite activity  or  engaging with family or friends to play or talk through their feelings. 

Parenting in a Pandemic

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These are unprecedented times. As soon as we seem to have a handle on things: business, entertainment venues and places of worship are opening up again, COVID numbers spike, there are more closures and most school districts have delayed the beginning of school in person to after Labor day. Living with the threat of a dangerous illness, wearing masks everywhere we go and having no one including– the government and the healthcare community– knows when the pandemic will come to an end. 

Everyone agrees that quantity time spending time with your kids is important and valuable, but it is way more challenging when this quantity time goes on and on! These days families feel on top of one another all the time especially since parents are working remotely and for kids summer camp and family vacations have been cancelled this year. On top of all of these disappointing cancellations, there’s distance from important family and friends, financial difficulties and fear of illness that feels immanent. 

Both parents and kids are carrying around a lot of extra stress these days. It is easy to become irritable or overwhelmed (sometimes without even knowing why) and self-care for adults and kids is more important than ever. Here are some self-care practices that may help your family function better during COVID-19.

  1. Create a new structure

It can feel great to take a Saturday and sleep in, have everyone wear their pajamas all day, watch movies all day and get mark absolutely nothing off your to-do list. But now that we are all home together much more often it can be helpful to have a schedule including meal (& snack) times, getting dressed, work and educational time, do chores, time for physical exercise, time to intentionally connect with your partner and your kids (even though you’re home together all the time, date nights, one on one time, focused family time still need to be a priority you can all count on), engaging in spiritual practices and a consistent bedtime, for kids and grown-ups

2. Be flexible

Schedules are important to help everyone feel secure, but life in a pandemic is unpredictable. Flexibility is required and parenting guilt isn’t helpful for anyone. You may work hard to limit your kids’ screen time and encourage indoor and outdoor play but maybe you have a day full of important zoom meetings and the only way you can guarantee your kids will stay occupied and won’t interrupt your meeting with questions like, “Where is my light saber?” or “Can I use the paints now?” is letting your kids have ongoing access to the iPad. Life is about balance. Sometimes you make a healthy dinner and your kids eat every bite and other times you order pizza and call it a day. The same will be true with your kids some days they might be eager to learn or excited to help fold the laundry. Other days they might beg for more screen time all day long or melt down when you ask them to do something as simple as putting their plate in the sink. Sometimes it’s best to set firm limits and other times you just need to read them a bedtime story and try again tomorrow. 

3. Voice your feelings (and take others’ feelings seriously)

Of course, there are the big things like the family vacation to Disney is cancelled or the family reunion is put off until the Fall, are big disappointments. Make sure you are aware of your own feelings about these losses: anxiety, sadness, frustration, irritation or maybe even relief. Just like you can feel lots of different things at once so can your kids. Make time to process your own feelings. Help your kids identify their own feelings and express them in a healthy way. An example might be: Using a feelings chart to help kids identify their feelings and then letting them express their feelings by drawing or releasing pent up frustration on the trampoline in the backyard. The earlier you can tackle your (& your child’s feelings) the better, stuffing feelings leads to emotional complications. If things feel out of control often or if your child seems to be regressing, it may be time to consider therapy either in person or with telehealth. 

4. Find ways to stay connected with important people outside of your family

It is a loss to not have the summer to spend with friends and extended family members. For some families it helps to have regular FaceTime dates with grandma and grandpa or having the neighbors over while maintaining social distance with each family playing on their own driveway or sending fun care packages to the cousins every few weeks. 

4. Look for new things to celebrate and new ways to relax

Before COVID you may have looked forward to a weekly date night with your spouse but pandemic date night may be date night in once or twice a week. Instead of going out to dinner or to the movies you could order in new foods or cook family favorites together. Also, you could  introduce your kids to your favorite childhood movies this summer. Maybe instead of spending one on one time with your son while your daughter has her weekly ballet lessons you can take a walk around the neighborhood or take him to Sonic for slushies once a week. 

 

Parenting during a pandemic is incredibly challenging, but it can become a time when your family grows even closer to one another. If you are intentional, flexible, attentive and creative your family will grow individually and as a unit.

Read more about our therapists at East Dallas Psychotherapy to see how we can help you cope with the anxieties and stress of this season.

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“Most of us were taught that God would love us if and when we change. In fact, God loves you so that you can change. What empowers change, what makes you desirous of change is the experience of love. It is that inherent experience of love that becomes the engine of change.”

― Richard Rohr

I don’t think beat up, broken, and shameful humans were ever God’s intention for us. But we can so often over-correct when we search our own hearts for wayward ways. We magnify God’s judgement, and forget about God’s grace. 

“Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”

I think we all agree it’s harmful to throw stones at others for their flaws. And we have no right to say we have the perfect standard to measure them against. But as a therapist, I think that we can have a part of us that holds the “perfect standard” and we measure ourselves, our behaviors, our beliefs against that perfect standard. We’re casting stones at ourselves. If we can’t hold others to that standard, why do we hold ourselves to that standard? 

I believe we can embrace our doubt and our belief, our devoutness and our relativism, our woundedness with the church and our healing experiences with God. If we can hold all of these together we’re practicing grace. To put it in psychological terms, we developing a more flexible view of ourselves and the world, which is always healthier than shame and self-judgement.

All of this I have seen first hand in my own faith. I have, and still do, grapple with deep doubt. I have experienced spiritual wounding from leaders I believed in. I am still reconciling my past experiences in God with my concept of God now. From that place of understanding, I work to bring the spiritual life and psychology together in my approach to therapy.


Many of the concerns my clients have:

  • Processing deconstructing their faith
  • Over-moralizing their choices
  • Unable to let go of failures- even as they are trying to embrace more freedom
  • A harsh inner critic
  • Shame about the decisions they have made because they differ from what they were taught growing up
  • Wanting clarity on what to throw out and what to hold onto, when it comes to their faith
  • Confusing about their past experience with God which may or may not align with current their beliefs
  • Wanting to embrace freedom without judgement of yourself
  • Feeling confident about choices around naysayers
  • Learning to embrace and integrate their faith now

 

Recommended Reading

Let your Life Speak by Parker J Palmer

Try Softer by Aundi Kolber

This Too Shall Last by KJ Ramsey

Devotions by Mary Oliver

Your Blue Flame by Jennifer Fulwiler


 

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More About Morgan

Escape to the Present- Mindfulness and Nature

There is something that draws us into the beauty of nature. I like to think of it as surrender to the elements we can’t control- and in the lack of control, there is beauty and peace. It is wild and unpredictable and we are just in it. I think of being in the ocean with water so deep, waves high, and animals swimming beneath our feet. It’s thrilling and yet, it can be the most relaxing and refreshing experience. We spend our time and money getting to these places so we can experience this escape. What if we didn’t have to fly away on vacation to experience this kind of escape and relaxation?

This is where I believe nature can come in to provide rest from our busy lives.  If we can routinely (key word) let ourselves experience something purely present, we can calm those physiological symptoms (heart rate, breathing, other stress responses), and we can settle the emotional and mental noise.  

Photo by Drew Dau on Unsplash

There is new research in the mental health community about the healing affects of nature. There are scientists right now testing the affects of soil bacteria in healing allergies and now even depression (article here). We are increasingly drawn away to other worlds through our phones, social media, netflix, etc. None of these are unhealthy in themselves, but they can send us back into that mental loop that we get stuck in sometimes. I call it rumination. It can be a thought pattern of fear, discouragement, overwhelm, or stress. By contrast nature is present. It’s the beautiful now.

Photo by Tom Byrom on Unsplash

I discovered how true this is a years ago when my first daughter was born. I struggled with post pardum depression. I had dark days where my thoughts spiraled into despair and despondency. One day I decided to get outside and work on my backyard. I started digging and planted a small vegetable garden. Since then I have come back again and again to my garden as a respite from my internal world.

My garden is seasonal- it teaches me things change. It has a mind of its own and teaches me patience and peace in what I can’t control. It’s beautiful, which pulls be back into the present every time I see a seed sprout or a flower emerge.

There are so many benefits to my garden, it’s difficult to determine what really helps the most: the exercise, the vitamin D, the distraction, the soil, or the beauty? It was so healing for me in a time in my life when I felt under water.  Douglas LaBier Ph.D. wrote an article about this very thing. In nature “…you’re simply present. Conscious in the moment. Observing the flow of your mental and emotional activity; but not being pulled into it. That conscious “now” allows for greater inner calm, clearer judgment, and it enables more focused, creative responses to everyday life.” Dr. LaBier talks about broadening our view by seeing ourselves as connected to the world right around us. Where you can move from self-focused thoughts and feelings to seeing yourself as part of a community of people and within the natural world. To try this practice out, try a mindfulness mediation (click here) then take a walk or try one of these ideas.

Some ideas for engaging with the present world around us:

  • Plant some seeds
  • Take a walk (leave your phone at home)
  • sketch something you see outside
  • smell the flowers and the freshly cut grass!
  • Take a drive with the windows down
  • Try this mindfulness meditation

Morgan Myers, LPC-intern
Supervised by Jessica Taylor, LPC-S

Morgan is a therapist at East Dallas Psychotherapy specializing in mothers with young kids overwhelmed by life, figuring out relationships, and dealing with depression and anxiety. For more about her click here.

More articles about the benefits of Nature and Mindfulness

Read about the “relaxation response” (as opposed to a stress response) by Dr. Herbert Benson

Perfectionism in unusual places

by Morgan Myers, LPC-intern

I wondered today, as I was making my lunch, if most of us deep down inside have some perfectionistic tendencies. I’ve never thought of myself as a perfectionist in the classic sense, because I don’t care much about living up to other people’s view of me. But I’m noticing I have very high expectations for myself. While I was making a mediocre chicken salad for lunch today I was thinking, this just isn’t good enough. It’s not creative, I don’t have the ingredients I need, or the energy to make it better. Then I thought, no one is here telling me this isn’t good enough. It was coming from my own desire to do more. It’s a silly example, but I think it illustrates my point. We all want to live up to the vision in our heads. We want to achieve our goals. Or we want to live up to other’s goals for us, and the potential others see in us. I think that’s human nature to want to improve. We want to show ourselves as perfect to others and ourselves. We probably don’t say it so bluntly, but you can find the message of perfectionism in the always and never statements we tell ourselves. I want to ALWAYS be professional, I want to ALWAYS be on time, I NEVER want to make a mistake like this again. 

Another example is a client I had a while ago who wanted to be successful as a mother so bad. She spent all her time with her kids, and couldn’t give herself a break. Then she got completely frustrated and exhausted and had to leave for the weekend to recharge. It was all or nothing. She was either a successful mom at home day and night, exhausted or had to feel guilty if she took some time away. She couldn’t see that she could care about her family and herself. She could be a good mom and do things she enjoyed that recharged her.

Photo by Todd Diemer from Unsplash

The ALWAYS and NEVER framework (perfectionism) has a rigid view of self. That rigidity can be crippling. It’s like a bowling alley where the edges of the lane move closer and closer. If you roll the ball in a very straight line, you win! If it falls in the gutter, you lose. It’s a trap. 

Maybe it’s time to consider widening the lane. Health comes in a FLEXIBLE view of self. Peace and rest come with it too.

In counseling I like to say people are a constellation of themselves. They aren’t strictly one thing. We can be any one of the stars in the constellation, depending on the day, the mood, the fact that you’re hungry or tired. It can vary depending on the life stage. All of it is you. If we can view ourselves as a constellation, we can loosen the grip on who we think we should be, and just be.  

Photo by Eidy Bambang-Sunaryo on Unsplash

If you’d like to explore this more for yourself, begin to notice when you feel those lanes closing in. It might be an ALWAYS or NEVER statement. It might be an area where you keep criticizing yourself.

Slow down.

You can be more than one thing. You can make mistakes. Your constellation will have some contradictions. (For example, fun and serious, prompt but sometimes forgetful, mom

If you have time, draw a constellation. Put at least 20 stars. Label each one with qualities you possess- good and not-so-good. Allow for contradictions. You might begin to notice some themes about who you are. Practice self-compassion and reflection.

Morgan Myers, LPC-intern
Supervised by Jessica Taylor, LPC-S

Morgan is a therapist at East Dallas Psychotherapy specializing in mothers with young kids overwhelmed by life, figuring out relationships, and dealing with depression and anxiety. For more about her click here.

Soul-searching for Soul-care

My background in working as a therapist for college students at the Texas A&M University Student Counseling Service, as well as my work in college student ministry has given me an appreciation for the journey from adolescence to adulthood. This season in every person’s life often comes with a unique set of challenges. Emerging adulthood is ripe with opportunity, possibility, and potential. The hard work in this phase of life is discovering your unique identity while not molding yourself into an imitation of someone else. Emerging adulthood provides an opportunity to thoughtfully examine our lived experiences, growth edges, and symptoms with wonder and curiosity, discovering the potential that is latent within us.

One book that has influenced my work as a therapist is Thomas Moore’s, Care of the Soul: A Guide for Cultivating Depth and Sacredness in Everyday Life. In it, he writes about approaching each day with mindfulness, learning how to gain greater depth and meaning from our experiences in the world through reflection. Rather than medicating pain, smoothing out abnormalities, or alleviating discomforts, he recommends approaching adversity with acceptance and stillness that he believes leads to greater insight. Moore states, “Our symptoms allow us to ask questions about what our soul needs.”

 

In practice, care of the soul is about the ongoing process and work of learning what we need to function and thrive, seeking to meet those needs in adaptive ways. Moore believes that our symptoms, if explored and reflected upon, could enlighten us to aspects of our lives where growth can occur. In my experience working with young adults, I’ve noticed that their primary focus is external, of goal attainment, skill acquisition, and self-improvement.  Moore’s book, on the other hand, suggests an inward focus for realizing our own gifts and abilities and allowing space for them to emerge.

I genuinely hope that, wherever you are on your journey, you would graciously accept the person you are today and thoughtfully and courageously examine your dreams and desires for what your soul truly needs.

What is sand tray therapy??

One of my favorite activities as a therapist is to use sand tray with my clients- typically I use this once my clients are really comfortable in counseling and have gotten to know me well. Sometimes people can’t really identify what it is that’s going on- they might be overwhelmed, confused, or uncertain. Sand tray can be a way to get those emotions out without having to say a word. We use the metaphor of the figures instead. We often use verbal metaphors to describe our emotional situations. You’ve probably heard this before: I feel like I’m under water and I can’t seem to get my head above water, my life has lost it’s color, I feel like I won the jackpot, I feel like I live on an island and no one understands… etc. These are all ways we use metaphor to describe something that’s difficult to say.

Sometimes my clients can expand the metaphor through creative activities like sand tray. We use figures and sand- these are all symbols of what is going on inside. Clients are often fascinated by what they’re drawn to as they choose a figure to represent their situation. I have all kinds of figures: people, objects, animals, props, sets (like bridges, fences, ladders, trees, etc). These have incredible meaning, and seeing them in a tray all together usually creates a powerful moment of perspective. I like to think of it as a mental or emotional diorama. 

I have been trained in this technique and would be happy to answer any questions. If you’re interested in learning more about this, please email me at: morgan@eastdallastherapy.com or book an appointment online.

For parents of teens…

The counseling process depends on your goals and your teens goals (which can sometimes be different from each other). Many of my teen clients come in with teen depression or anxiety, social anxiety, or grief from losing someone close to them. Sometimes they’re processing the future like what career path to choose. I bet you have questions about this process- I’m happy to answer any questions before we book our first appointment. I want you to be involved as much as you would like. Call us to ask questions or click to book.

“The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just I am, then I can change” -Carl Rogers

Common Teen Clients:

  • teen depression
  • teen anxiety
  • fear
  • withdrawal
  • problems in relationships like bullying, assertiveness, social media
  • test anxiety
  • grief from recent death
  • insecurity/self-confidence

A letter to the teens reading this…

You’re probably reading this because you are totally overwhelmed with life (or your parents want you to get unstuck in some way). In my office, counseling is for you. Whatever you come in with, I want to hear it and carry it with you. I’m not shocked or overwhelmed by much. I’m not thrown off by awkwardness either. I get that gaining your trust takes time and I’m willing to wait. I want to meet you right where you are. It might feel more comfortable to have your hands busy with sand, paint, drawing, or games. Or if you want to sit and talk we could do that too. I let you choose. Whatever you come in with, I’m honored you’re willing to trust me enough to show up.

Teens often come see me because they’re depressed, anxious, fearful, or someone has died and they’re grieving. You might relate to those things or you might need more self-confidence or assertiveness or want to learn how to have good relationships. Or maybe you don’t know what you want to do when high school is over and want some help to figure that out. You might identify with this or it might be totally different. I want to walk with you through whatever is going on.

“What’s comin’ will come, and we’ll meet it when it does.” -Hagrid

The Firsts and the Foreign

Have you ever thought about what it must be like to be a kid experiencing the world for the first time? If you’ve ever been in a foreign country you remember the feeling of looking out the window and there are signs with symbols you’ve never seen and letters that seem to be pushed together to form some word that has meaning to everyone else but you. Then you see that everyone seems to be behaving in similar ways but you can’t seem to fall in line. Maybe you don’t want to fall in line. Maybe you want to rebel! Or you wish they drove on the right side of the rode and followed the appropriate amount of personal space, and didn’t talk so loudly or so quietly. You wish they were like the people in your own country.

I’ve been thinking about how a kid might encounter our world and its unspoken rules at each developmental stage with newfound awareness/confusion. We assume they will fall in line with our mini-culture in our family. We try to speed through the “learning” then “modeling” process that is our job as parents. When they learn to talk we are surprised, sometimes irritated when they speak too loudly. They scream their new words happily in the car, but then they do it in the middle of church. We forget they don’t know the difference between the car and a nice restaurant.

When they begin to have an opinion, they get to have choices. They choose their shirt for the day, they choose what drink to order. But then they think they can choose to paint on the wall too! Right? We forget they don’t know there’s a difference between those choices.

Oh lordy, what about puberty? When they begin to open their eyes to romantic relationships. This has to be like visiting the Italian Riviera for the first time, having never stepped foot out of the monotonous suburbs! They see everything in brilliant emotional color. We forget they’ve never experienced this kind of admiration, love, infatuation- even if it’s just with their own reflection! The newness of all the hormonal firsts is all consuming.

We forget that at the beginning of each of those developmental stages they get saturated by the newness. They don’t know the rules and boundaries. It’s our job to show them without judgement. Give grace. And Model! Maybe we can relive some of those moments with them. The firsts. The firsts that cause all the conflict in a family and cause us to set new limits as parents. But the firsts are where they stretch their legs and grow into the humans we hope they will be. And isn’t it exciting!?


Morgan Myers, LPC-intern is a family therapist specializing in adolescent counseling and adult counseling. Issues include depression, anxiety post partum depression and parenting concerns. She currently seeing clients in North Dallas at Hope Child & Family Center of Texas. Beginning Fall 2018 she will also be seeing clients in East Dallas. For a consultation and to setup an appointment for you or your child, call 469-203-1533 or email morganmyers@therapyemail.com.