Anxiety, Depression: Signs of Spiritual Anemia

FC4CB5F4-D388-46BC-B130-21C2E1A382A9

The soul requires your attention.  If it’s depression or anxiety we experience, before we seek to medicate, we need to ask ourselves how much time are we spending nourishing our souls.  While we may spend time balancing the physical and social aspects  of our lives, the soul may remain neglected signaling ‘hunger’ through the pangs of restlessness and melancholy.  Often, someone who is experiencing a generalized form of anxiety or depression will discover that little time has been vested in soul-enriching activities that restore emotional and spiritual balance.  So before a discussion on medications takes place, an exploration of wellness activities should be discovered.  These may include:  

Meditate

Meditation has been proven to significantly reduce anxiety.  In fact, there is research proving that meditation is just as effective as prescribed medications in managing anxiety.

Read

Reading increases awareness and can help improve the ability to understand what is going on within you.  It also helps with shifting focus away from what you are experiencing to being in tune with the plot and characters of the story.  

Laugh

Laughing or even the act of smiling releases pleasure creating chemicals in the brain, giving off a sense of well-being.  Engaging in content or with people that make you laugh is a sure way to combat the imbalance of ‘feel good’ neutrotransmitters in the brain of those suffering with depression and/or anxiety.  

Many times, our moods are worsened by overthinking or catastrophizing.  A “keep it simple” approach in which we spend time devoted to the deeper part of ourselves is important as a starting point to manage our moods before reassessing and exploring further solutions.  

One More Minute

6FDFFC5A-353A-4434-B334-D79955346131I remember as a child before going to sleep, I’d turn the lights off and dash straight for the bed.  I’d strain my eyes open, desperately seeking light- that minute of waiting felt like an eternity.  I’d initially feel a sense of dread staring into the nothingness of the air, nothing could be seen beyond the opaqueness of the night.  In that minute I’d think, “there is nothing, I am nothing.” I was small, consumed by a great void.  This terrorized me.  But as the  minute passed, the darkness faded.  Small rays of light dispersed through the room and I’d begin to see.  I could see myself. I was put together.  I wasn’t so small after all.  I could look at my surroundings…my hands, and smile.  The wonderful realization about this process was coming to understand later that no matter how dark I had perceived my surroundings to be, the light was always there, waiting for me to grasp it.  I just had to hold on and patiently trust it would show up.  

On a psychological and emotional level, we lose precious souls because it becomes too dark within.  A moment of despair can feel like an eternity where light never comes.  We desperately look around.  We become restless. We feel small.  We say we’re nothing or nothing matters.  But the night is only temporary, it was only a reaction to a sudden change we needed to adjust to. The light is coming.  It has come.  You are awake… you look at yourself.  You’re not so small.  As a matter of fact, you’re pretty f****** beautiful.  You love yourself more, and best of all, you’ve learned to love the night.  

On Emptiness and Difficulty

D4602A77-B655-4BFB-AE59-B9D806FAC0DE

Often, in times of solitude and reflection I think about past impactful events of my career as a counselor.  My mind wanders through the corridors of a crisis unit where the majority of our patients had a history of multiple suicide attempts.  There were people there who had experienced the worst kinds of acts-abuse on every level, witnessing first hand tragic losses of close friends and family, and sudden abrupt life changes such as financial loss and divorce.  Many of the people I encountered possessed a common characteristic- they were immobilized by their pain and were unable to focus on anything outside of the now prevailing emptiness that pervaded their lives.  Any forms of therapeutic interventions or words of encouragement were lost in the void.  One thing I came to understand:  depression at its peak can paralyze a person, both on the physical and cognitive levels.  Remedying emptiness and difficulty then requires more than persuasion of changing perspective or acquiring tools to cope- it requires a journey further into the experience of despair where light is found through, not away, from the problem.  

Uncovering Reality

Healing takes place when we are able to sit with reality as it is.  When pain is immense it produces a numbness that a person may not even be aware of how they are feeling.  A process of uncovering emotions through validation and recognition of feelings provides us with a sense of belonging and security.  Identifying feelings gives a person the ability of observing their lives from a higher perspective.  The act of observing provides a space between experiencing pain and “paralysis” where finding ways to persevere becomes possible. The sufferer finds freedom in understanding that although they are in emotional pain, they are also capable of observing and becoming participants of their own experience.  People gradually move away from the all consuming thought “I’m in pain” to “I am aware, this is happening to me.”  

Authenticity 

Difficulties can be the means by which we discard what matters most.  All one needs to ask to reach an effective conclusion is “what is this difficulty teaching me?” Perhaps the things we placed so much time and value on really didn’t hold any weight in our crisis.  Sometimes, it takes a significant life event to learn that our time and energy was spent on falsehoods that contributed greatly to the nagging pangs of emptiness.  The moments of crisis are the opportunities by which we get in contact with reality- we discard the fake and commit our lives to what is true.  This is evident in people who have experienced and overcome crisis.  They emanate authenticity and have a zero tolerance for anything that portrays hypocrisy and deception.  These people have learned the principle of impermanence- that things and people are unpredictable and fleeting.  In this, there is great freedom. 

Universality 

It is sometimes a game changer when we realize that tragedy is tragedy only when it manifests itself in our lives.  However, tragedy occurs daily.  I cannot think of a single individual who has not experienced the death of a loved one or not experienced a loss of some kind.  Pain and emptiness may initially draw us more inwardly, but can also give us the chance to notice that difficulty and feelings of emptiness are universal.  On some level, we have all experienced a loss and many have been able to overcome the resulting darkness and go on to live healthy and productive lives.  If we occasionally gaze our eyes outwardly during crisis, we’ll find the comfort in knowing that we are not alone in our suffering and we will eventually get through it.  

The Invisible Line

48CD6EB9-CBFC-4ED7-A8A1-8D5BBF393115

Catch me on a Monday morning stuck in South Florida traffic, running late to work, having to pass on the venti plain pike, dodging cars, looking down and realizing the stain on my shirt didn’t come off after washing.  “I’m late… what is the boss going to say?… stop, your mind is racing” I tell myself-  Catch me in a state of battling my own mind and you’d probably label this process as unstable. If at this point you were able to dissect my thoughts and feelings within a ten minute frame, you’d discover irrational, random, illogical, self-defeating, catastrophizing, and possibly nihilistic content.  You’d probably change your perception on the kind of person I am if we were well acquainted.  However, you’d also acknowledge that every person experiences between 50,000-70,000 thoughts a day.  You’d probably reflect at your own thought patterns throughout a 24 hour period and come away with saying “I’ve had days like that.”  The reality is our minds produce a plethora of thoughts given each presenting situation.  Most of us are fortunate enough to be able to filter, choose, or ignore such thoughts-unfortunately, there are some who are incapable of doing so.  

If we explored the thoughts of any stable, mentally sound individual, you would find a vast area of uncertainty, anxiety, fears, resentments, selfishness, regret, secrets, desires, etc.  What distinguishes this person from the “psychotic” is a well functioning mechanism of containing, filtering, choosing, interpreting, discarding, and applying such thoughts.  The “schizophrenic” wears his thoughts and feelings on the outside, while the majority of us conceal and process them internally.  Nonetheless, the thought content of fears, dreams, desires, love, anger, etc is identical.  If you ever took the time to know someone that experiences auditory or visual hallucinations, you’ll discover the content has significant meaning.  Whether it seems bizarre or incoherent, if we examine our own thoughts we’ll find a common thread-that we all deal with fears whether real or imagined, we all dream, and we all seek to love and be loved in return.  The person who bears the challenges of being unable to contain and filter their thoughts within deserve our utmost gratitude. There is something magnificent, a life saving quality of being able to hear a familiar language uttered in a dark and foreign land. Similarly, it’s relieving to listen to an unfiltered emotion- a thought freed from the constraints of what is “right” or “appropriate” in the midst of challenges.  It’s in the process of crossing over to understand those society disregards- it’s through the voices and visions of a unique mind that we are able to reflect, relate to others, and manage our own inner world.  

Depth Of Our Wounds

68697F6A-B797-4F2C-9F89-2CE75AA191E2

“The scars had finally healed.  Looking back on every laceration, every opening… was only an attempt to break free, a way to release all the things I wanted to be and all the things I wanted to say.  Each scar collectively became a map of where I wanted to go, a clear direction for a lost soul.  The scars had finally healed, and I knew this because what I had done to myself physically, through the process of healing, was finally transcended and attained on the spiritual realm.”

More Than Crumbs

AA398DC1-12E0-4D7F-AD0B-305BB0955D36

Who stole the cookie from the jar?
Well…
You did.
Now let’s talk about honesty.  Honesty, and not in the religious moral sense (going to a bad place of lying), but in the sense of integrity. The sense that if you can be honest with yourself and with the values you’ve learned along the way then you can start to grow.

Therapy can be tough, while it implies that a client will be honest, so does the therapist. And while I believe everyone lies at some point in some form, it’s difficult when you are in the therapy room.

On one side, you don’t want to express your darkest secrets and on the other hand you don’t want to tell the client you are thinking about lunch.

There are different schools of thought on change and behaviors. But I think the common idea starts with admitting to yourself (being honest) that there is something you can change or alter. Then you can begin the process of moving forward.

Integrity is not easy.  It’s not easy in therapy or off the couch. But like anything, as you practice you can find yourself satisfying your own path in life instead of walking another person’s path.

Honesty isn’t always the best policy, but if you want to stop stealing cookies, be honest with yourself. If not, steal as many cookies as you want, but don’t tell the therapist you want to change or it’s someone else’s fault you’re getting fat.

Quote from Bill Ward, drummer of Black Sababth:

During the question-and-answer portion of the evening, an audience member asked Ward what advice he’d give someone who was going through a rough time. He responded: “If you believe in a higher power or if you believe in God, then I would suggest that you go to God and see if you can find some solutions. If you don’t believe in God, then try to be as honest with yourself as you possibly can…When I’ve chosen the light of God or self-honesty, my own misery has brought me to a solution. My own pain, my own sadness has brought me to a place of surrender, so I’ll surrender to the truth anyway and go, ‘You know what? I need to talk to somebody about this.’ Try not to be alone with your own pain. Try to find someone you can trust your pain with. It’s really important that we communally share what’s going on with each other… Otherwise, we’re going to be walking around in a very sorrowful place.”

Noah Goldberg, MSW, RCSWI

Elevation: The Simple Path of Change

4FF9A0B9-BE28-48B5-9953-832822A16D3D.jpeg

Great philosophies are born in the midst of turning points.  A counseling approach based on the foundation of a life changing experience will endure and permeate the lives it treats.  Every helper, no matter what level of expertise, must bring a part of these profound experiences to the counseling table. 

I remember a particular day in the 10th grade, staring into space, daydreaming, disconnected from my surroundings. I was sitting in my English class when the teacher asked the class to write a poem.  I was disinterested, slumped on my desk and prepared for a long nap.  However, the teacher, Mrs. Kurzer was persistent in getting the class to write a poem.  So I wrote a few lines, I can’t recall exactly what I wrote.  But I have always remembered what happened next.  Mrs. Kurzer read the poem and I could see the expression on her face change… and she looked at me and said “wow! This is really good poetry!”  And then she asked “can I make copies of this to show to my other classes?”  Now for a 15 year old kid like me at the time, who had experienced for years verbal and physical abuse from teachers in the public school system, this one gesture pulled me out of the depths of low-self esteem and fear.  Until that point, I had one foot in dropping out.  Until that point, I was utterly convinced that I had no abilities, that I was dumb; there was no confidence in the sense of accomplishing anything.  After that day, Mrs. Kurzer continued to encourage me with writing.  I developed a strong interest in poetry.  Aside from developing a talent, it gave me the gift of believing that I can… that I had a place in the world… I can contribute and create and I was good at something… and this all started with someone conveying a message that I was able.  It  just took one person to bring that out in me… to sincerely express a compliment of an ability that laid dormant within.  This event paved the way for creativity, for taking risks, and most importantly helping others using this philosophy of elevating a person and elevating the moment through bringing out in people their dormant talents and capabilities.  

About a year ago I was working with a 19 year old young man who was in jail awaiting trial for murder.  This young man was likely going to spend the rest of his life behind bars.  He grew up in an impoverished neighborhood without a father figure or any positive role models.  The only sense of purpose and encouragement he had was the one given to him by his friends who spent their time committing crimes and using drugs.  It was through spending time with him and forming an alliance of trust and genuine encouragement that he was able to discover an exceptional talent with numbers.  In less than a month he was studying for his GED exam and soon after began tutoring other inmates.  His entire demeanor changed… his face was brighter, his attitude was positive, and he gave off a strong sense of confidence.  For once, he had a sense of purpose and ability that was awakened through a genuine and caring relationship.  I often wondered, what could have been of his life, only if he had discovered his purpose earlier… if someone would have brought out this capability from within him-  the person behind the cell door could have easily been a great accountant or professor, or better yet, an influential leader in his community.

When people lack purpose than you end up with a society that seeks fulfillment in the most  destructive ways.  A capability unrealized, no matter how small, is a tragedy.. When you look around in your community, around the local treatment centers, the local streets, or even within your own family or circle of friends and you see people that you can help lift out of the depths of despair through elevating them  through encouragement and genuine love then every moment and every encounter becomes an opportunity to take part in what truly matters most… saving a life and in turn saving generations.  

Effectiveness

E7952947-1034-437B-A124-0D728A9A5A0B

There is a stark difference between good and effective.  While good co-signs and placates, effectiveness always upholds the truth without compromise.  If I am called a good person because I tell you what you want to hear rather than what you need to hear, I am ineffective.  A good doctor makes you comfortable.  An effective one gets the tumor out and that requires serious discomfort.  The world needs just as much as effective men as there are good ones.  We should always be mindful to never confuse one for the other.  

The Alternate Womb: A Therapy That Holds and Heals

inner child

“The relationship you build with a client surpasses any therapeutic intervention.”

A close friend and colleague told me that once in a time of self-doubt. I think as therapists, at times we question our ability and our techniques. We are working with humans and sometimes the faith we might put into the work doesn’t seem to have the results that we want. This leads to questions of ” Am I doing this right? , Why am I doing this? School didn’t teach me this. What am I supposed to do with this human?”

We have, as clinicians, a lot of access to books, blogs like this, other therapists and YouTube videos. But ultimately what matters is the relationship and rapport you have with a client.

Therapy, the work we do, happens mostly outside the doors of the office with a couch. During the sessions however, alot of processing and opening up occurs. If the environment is judgmental, cold, authoritative, and sterile, it’ll be difficult to allow the space for trust and safety. Now, I’m not saying don’t use your worksheets, books, or research articles but if you take the time to focus on the relationship, then and only then, can the process of therapy or healing can begin.

Again, this is an opinion but in times of doubt focus on your ability to communicate, to reciprocate the client’s feelings.  Empathy goes a longer way than sympathy and even if you  can’t relate to a client’s cultural or ethinic background, find a common ground.  Therapy , shouldn’t always be about the “bad stuff.” Spend a session talking about the client’s passions or lack of passion.  You may find yourself more engaged.

Lastly, imagine you go somewhere to talk to someone about your own skeletons. You walk into an office terrified that you will be judged on your morals. The therapist has a suit and tie, is pompous, tells you that you are wrong and in order to begin talking about the passing of your loved one you HAVE to fill out 5 worksheets with numbers, sad faces, and intrusive questions.

This might work. But, now imagine your first session as welcoming, embracing, without arrogance.  The therapist’s chair is low to the ground, you’re told you are free to talk about whatever you want and start wherever you want. There is no judgment.

No matter the techniques, the relationship between a therapist and their client, as I have learned, is more important to begin the process of healing.

Noah Goldberg, RCSWI, MSW

%d bloggers like this: