"The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams." Eleanor Roosevelt

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Shenandoah Winter

"Life is old there, older than the trees, younger than the mountains, growin' like a breeze . . ." From Take Me Home, Country Roads

The recent season of my life has been somewhat of a winter - my (now ex-)husband's aneurysm rupture, the subsequent divorce and loss of my family as I knew it - dreamed it would be, starting over, so many changes, transformation . . . and now that it feels that spring may stay for a while and summer is even possible . . . I want to celebrate the winters we all experience, rejoice for what they bring.

Scattered throughout this post are photographs from the Shenandoah Valley in the winter. Some of them were taken from inside a Comanche Piper, single-engine aircraft right after this year's first snowfall.

In a previous post, I quoted from the off-Broadway classic, The Fantasticks
, and it is worth quoting again:

"There is a curious paradox that no one can explain, for who understands the secret of the reaping of the grain, who understands why spring is born out of winter's laboring pain, or why we must all die a bit before we grow again?" (From the Fantasticks by Tom Jones & Harvey Schmidt)

Today I'm working in D.C.. Another blizzard is expected to come up through the Valley, and I'm hoping I can both get in the work I need to do here, and get home again before I'm snowed out.

Winter, winters . . . some winters are longer and harder than others.

I received an email today from a former client. A war vet. I've worked with a lot of them, so this could be anyone of many. This particular vet was worried about sharing with his fellow soldiers, in a very exposed way, how he has struggled with post traumatic stress. He spent a good bit of time in Iraq or Afghanistan or both or somewhere else . . .I won't specify much to protect his identity. . .but war was hell for him. Hearing his stories was hell for me at times. Helping him begin the healing process was a gift to me, but he moved away, and the work has felt unfinished. We have kept in touch periodically. This is what I wrote to him today, with identifying details deleted. Please tolerate grammatical errors, etc. - the letter was written in relative haste, and with the desire to be like a conversation:

"Dear . . .

Maybe you can work on reframing these things as ways you've survived - versus failed.
ok - so here is this bottled up hypervigilance, anxiety, angst, anger from the war and other traumatic experiences in your life - lets call this "You post-war"
"You post-war" meets with an unfair, personality disordered job supervisor and does well in many ways until a certain level is reached, and You explode. You pre-war would not have exploded, even if the situation was such that it made sense to blow-up, but You've used up your tolerance, your ability to hold things in.

Each new thing, post-war difficulty, adds on to the stress within you - you have to figure out some way to get back to baseline - but that is not going to happen over night. How long did you spend in theater? How intense were those days and nights and weeks and months? It took a lot to get you where you are. Have you really had the chance to work that intensely on tackling your recovery? I don't think you have. You've had to worry about raising a son and caring for you both financially and the day to day events of life PLUS recovery. You're fighting an uphill battle.

What you could say to those who you're afraid might judge you, could very well convey the message that you are slowly winning - that you are still in a race even though you've been shot down multiple times. You hang in there, you keep working at it, and little by little, with some downturns, of course, you will eventually make it through. Making it through does not mean perfection - it means a life worth living. These are not failures, this is a journey against the current. How many of your peers are going to know this about you, who have been through as much as you? Do you really think those who have been through as much are going to judge you? Don't you know many other soldiers who went through a lot and have their own struggles? I do - they struggle in private and in shame and until some of you who look like you've got it together, who did a great job in theater, who are cool in so many ways - until more of you who are the walking wounded point out your hidden wounds, everyone who is struggling in private shame will keep doing so.

You don't HAVE to "come out" about the post traumatic stress, of course not, but it could be a very big piece of your recovery. Both on a psychological level, but also on a practical level. This may lead to opportunities that you would never have found. I can't make any guarantees, but must say YOU have a terrific charisma, magnetism, personality that shines through all the shrapnel that has hit you, it just needs to be seen, recognized. Here is a quote for you:

"You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, 'I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.' You must do the thing you think you cannot do."--Eleanor Roosevelt.

. . .I came across this quote the other day and you're the first person I thought of - you have embodied this many times in your life. I'm scared shitless to be on a TV program as an "expert" - but I'm going to face the fear and make my life more and more what I want it to be. I know you can do that, too - you are so strong, so smart, so capable.

Listen, call me if you need - - come out to DC and give this thing a go. It may be transformative, and if it isn't working when you're here, you can say so to them. They're dealing with ALL PTSD cases - they get it. You aren't dealing with a hand grenade; you'll get more than one chance. O. K.- seriously call if you need.

I'm thinking of you,


Shortly after, he responded, encouraged, and said to me "you rock." I wrote back:

"My clients teach me to be a better therapist everyday. You gave me a gift in our work together - because it challenged me, because you showed courage in the face of fear, and also because of the sacrifices you made in the name of our country -you rock, you are a rock - maybe pushed around by glacial forces, but a rock all the same. Here is another quote from Albert Schweitzer, Nobel Peace Prize recipient:

“At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.”,

Hang in there - and let me know about next week as soon as you can, so we can meet in DC if possible.


Finding the beauty in winter, the promise, the hibernation, the recovery.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Art Therapy

"The process of art therapy is based on the recognition that man’s most fundamental thoughts and feelings, derived from the unconscious, reach expression in images rather than words." (Naumberg 1958: 511).

It has been a long and very busy week including seeing around 30 patients between my two locations, working on my taxes, and all the joyous exhaustion of parenting my two daughters. This was made slightly more complicated this past week because their father had (successful) surgery. EG is pictured here, having a tea party, outside my shower.

My mom is home from the hospital and doing better, and she will probably be able to visit this weekend. My sister will drive her here, with my niece, and if I'm lucky a brother or two. I have left the Christmas trees up, with gifts beneath, and am ready to finally celebrate with my family. This week promises to be almost as hectic as last and I am attempting to start it off with peace, mindfulness, appreciation and joy.

I want to blog about a sustaining force in my life and in many others' lives. Art. Art is essential, I believe, to the human spirit. For many, creating is therapeutic. Many psychotherapists I know regard it as a critical, tangible part of their lives - to create something visible (or heard), in contrast to the very private, confidential, and often intangible work of psychotherapy.

My friend, Ken, who I've mentioned before, does amazing photography. He took a National Geographic cruise/tour around Alaska with his wife for their 50th anniversary, and he spent a lot of time with the photographers, learning new techniques. When we were together at a conference recently, I grabbed him, our cameras, and a taxi, and we headed off to Siesta Key, near Sarasota, where we rented bicycles and rode for a few hours, stopping for lunch, riding on the beach, and taking pictures. I stopped suddenly in the middle of the road making Ken think something was amiss, and I quietly pointed him to a great white egret, nearby.

He got his camera ready and started shooting - catching this:

Over the years, for me, my art therapy has assumed many mediums. I have mentioned playing the bassoon. And, obviously, dabbling in writing and photography are important to me.

I have painted, oil on canvas, giving most of my paintings away to other psychotherapists. Here is a photo of one of my favorite paintings now owned by a friend/colleague whose name includes the word "Fox".

I love gardening - creating an ever changing flower garden where there was just dirt, weeds, rocks. The ground becomes a canvas, but the process is dynamic, taking many years to get to its full glory. Here are some photos of my garden at my last home:

And the beginnings of one at my current place.

My children create a good bit, too, and my breakfast room serves as a gallery for some of their creations:

The girls make music with piano, lap harps, harmonicas, recorders. They love to dance and sing, and the 9 year old, MG, has recently been taken with acting.
She narrated her school play this year and had a small role in the high school's production of Julius Ceasar.

Here is a photo of the stuffed elf MG made for me - on my new, and very comfortable, bed in my DC room. The place is feeling very cozy. It is so nice to now feel at home in both places. The Big Sur art in the room is beautiful, too.

Another friend and colleague agreed to contribute to my blog several photographs of some of his recent work: below are dancers and a standing long jump:

He writes regarding the works photographed below: "Somewhere I heard the quote; 'A good artist borrows and a great artist steals.' In this iteration of the quote these figures were inspired by my 86 year old aunt who has developed the habit of stealing forks from every restaurant that she and my uncle have gone to in the past two years. When she said she did not know what she would do with them, I asked if could make her a gift of love. Her favorite pastime is to play her Steinway which she does with passion."

"Working with the forks has deepened my appreciation for the process of human perception. We can see nothing into which we cannot project our best aspirations, most tender feelings or our worst fears. These simple pieces of bent tableware only come alive when we imbue them with the music of our own souls." EGSharp

Time to finish up and get on with the less artistic chores of laundry and bills. Again, reminding me of how essential it is to creat something lasting. Talent doesn't matter so much (though maybe I'm just saying this to make myself feel better :) It is the impact it has on you . . . Make something!!

Here are two more of my creations, made about 15 years apart:

Sunday, January 17, 2010


"The best things in life are nearest: Breath in your nostrils, light in your eyes,
flowers at your feet, duties at your hand, the path of right just before you.
Then do not grasp at the stars, but do life's plain, common work as it comes,
certain that daily duties and daily bread are the sweetest things in life."
- Robert Louis Stevenson

and "Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world." - Harriet Tubman

Finding the right balance between reaching for the stars and living simply can be a challenge. It seems to me that both are important and that the quest for each can complement the other, rather than be mutually exclusive.

In fact, I believe that on many fronts, it is the juxtaposition of different worlds that instills a deep appreciation for each. For me, each week, it is life in two places, small town versus city, having children with me versus not, staying home versus being on the go. . . and over the course of my life have stood the contrasts of poverty versus relative abundance, connection versus loneliness, strength versus surrender. I could go on, ad nauseum, but am reigned in by the constraints of time and mental energy. My ruminations today are even more loosely tied, perhaps, than usual, so take from them what you will. . .

Following a blur of days in the capitol, it was refreshing to spend the rest of the weekend at home and near about with the darlings, doing chores and crafts and visiting with friends.

The blur:

I have a number of new clients in my DC practice. This means information overload: so many stories, so much to absorb and conceptualize.

My mom was hospitalized over the weekend for a pulmonary embolism. She is doing well now, on blood thinner, but the concern is, as this is the second clot in a few months' time, that she may have a genetic predisposition to such clotting and may have to remain vigilant and on Coumadin.

Since I could not get to visit her, I found myself wanting distraction. So I worked hard, called mom a lot, spent time with friends, stayed out late, and worked some more. Here is the lovely V as we are wrapping up our evening at 1:30 Saturday morning.

By the time I got back to my daughters on Saturday afternoon, I'd accomplished a great deal, but felt emptied out, depleted. It helped to have dinner with neighbors, at a hole-in-the-wall restaurant in town that is a favorite meeting place. I can never go there without running into friends, neighbors, and clients, and the food is cheap and delicious.

This morning, the rain came down steadily, beating a hypnotic rhythmn on my tin roof. It was overcast and the darkness and rain sound helped keep the girls asleep until almost 10:00 a.m. I relished the opportunity and did absolutely nothing with the found time, drifting in and out of a pleasant, dreamy sleep. The rain is washing away the snow that has been on the ground here for six weeks.

When we were all awake, EG & MG wanted nothing more than to cuddle in my bed and tickle and giggle and talk. This is what heaven must be like, and only hunger eventually forced us to get up and begin the day. Having not yet completely unpacked the car, and having an ever mounting pile of chores to overcome, I tried to get motivated and make progress. The day's accomplishments, however, were minimal.

"Besides the noble art of getting things done, there is the noble art of leaving things undone. The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of non-essentials." - Lin Yutang

EG was all about changing in and out of some new clothes we'd purchased for her the night before. She exclaimed, "Don't I look amazing?" MG claimed boredom and was looking for something to do, so we got out the cement mix and she made a stepping stone inlaid with a fish mosaic from beach glass we collected on our 2009 summer vacation.

We ended up going out for lunch and for dinner with grocery shopping in-between. Dinner was with SP and her two little ones. We had picked up candy canes on sale at the craft store and made a fleet of candy cane reindeer as we ate our enchiladas.
Halfway through the meal, EG had to change her outfit. She'd packed extras in the car, and wanted to make sure her best friend got to see the new dress, modeled. The puffy dress led to dancing, and all the kids got involved.

We topped off the frolic with fried ice-cream . . .

Now it is Monday morning and I'm waiting for clients at my home office. It is the MLK holiday. I'm glad this day is set aside; each year it helps me re-focus on issues of social justice, dreams of positive change, hope . . .

"Life's most persistent and urgent question is, 'What are you doing for others?" - Martin Luther King, Jr.

Last week Haiti was devastated by a horrendous earthquake. If you're reading this, and you haven't already, please make a contribution to benefit the people of Haiti. Even small donations can make a huge difference in the well being of a person.
Partners in Health -- http://pih.org/home.html
and Doctors Without Borders
-- https://donate.doctorswithoutborders.org/SSLPage.aspx?pid=197&hbc=1&source=AZE1001D1001

are just a couple of organizations that you could give through.

Thanks for reading & if you haven't, sign in to officially "follow" me. And please make comments; I enjoy the discourse, or teasing, or slander, really . . . as long as someone is paying attention :)