Acknowledging Burnout and Learning to Restart the Flame

african-american- woman gazingI’m feeling burned out…I have said yes to too many things, I have too much on my plate, I have some tough things going on in my personal life and the result is me feeling burned out. One of the worst parts of this is that it’s negatively impacting my work. I love being a therapist; sitting with people, helping them to process their emotions and experiences, bearing witness to their pain, and talking through strategies to help them improve their lives. And yet, in this space of burnout I feel less empathic and patient with my clients who are most challenging. My ability to take a step back and see what is happening emotionally in sessions has been diminished. I feel guilty and embarrassed by these shortcomings. I feel badly that I may not be offering my clients the best support possible.

Part of my experience of stress and burnout is situational. I work at a university that is on a quarter system and this is the time of the quarter when we are busy and have a lot to fit in before the academic year ends. Part of this is because of my own difficulty saying no to things and my general excitement related to taking on new things. I am realizing that I need to be more strategic about what I say yes to and that I cannot sign on to everything that looks good and comes my way.

I imagine that most of you may have experienced burnout or have felt overwhelmed at one point or another, so I’m opening up and writing this post for my own growth and healing and in the hopes that it helps you too. The following is what I’m doing to get myself out of this space. Continue reading

How to Live a Meaningful Life: Connecting Your Passions with World Problems

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We are living in stressful times. Whether you’re concerned about the fates of Syrian refugees, undocumented immigrants, transgender people, the gender wage gap, people of color, or the environment, there are lots of things that need our support. As these issues become more present to us I believe that more people are asking themselves how they can help. More of us are wondering whether the careers that we have chosen will enable us to affect change in this world. I believe that our greatest accomplishments are those that help to solve our world’s greatest challenges. Your deepest satisfaction will come from the meaningful contributions you make to the common good.

I adapted this post from a graduation speech that I gave and I hope it will help those of you wanting to live a meaningful life and working to determine how to use your gifts and passions to make a positive impact on the world. Continue reading

Honking in Traffic: Are You Struggling Against Life?

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There is an elementary school down the street from my office and every afternoon around 3:45pm there is a long line of cars with parents and caregivers waiting to pick up their children from school. At least a couple times a week this line of cars is accompanied by someone who decides to lay on their horn seemingly frustrated with the traffic caused by 5 year olds getting in their parent’s cars to go home. It always feels nonsensical to me. Why would someone honk and get so frustrated if they know this traffic jam happens every day at the same time and if they know the cause of it? Why wouldn’t they take another route to get where they need to go? Or better yet, why don’t they just relax and make their way through the line like everyone else?

It’s easy to judge these drivers who honk their horns loudly in frustration and to get annoyed at the noise pollution they cause as I attempt to provide a calming therapeutic space for my clients and yet as I take some time to reflect and use this as a metaphor I realize that there must be times and places where I do something similar.

I have to ask myself, where do I create unnecessary stress and tension while also disrupting the people around me because I’m resisting what is? Where are the places that I struggle against life when I really need to relax and let life go at it’s own pace? When are the times that I run into the same predictable barriers only to respond with frustration instead of humor and acceptance? I’m going to take some time to think about my answers to these questions with the hope that it will make my life and the lives around me more calm and peaceful. I encourage you to think about where these places are for you. When are you honking your horn during a predictable traffic jam? Where are you struggling against life?

Freeing Yourself from the Trap of Trying to Do it All

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I started to feel overwhelmed again last Tuesday morning. My to do list felt too long and the hours to get things done felt too short. I needed time to rest but felt stuck in the commitments I had already made. The combination of needing a break from work and managing a few projects outside of work was pushing my ideal balance of busyness too far. I have always tended to do too much. However, over the last few years, I have made an effort to increase my time for rest and self-care, to get comfortable spending time relaxing and not doing anything productive. Though I’ve gotten better at cutting back when I start to feel overwhelmed and saying no to things that I don’t have time for, I still struggle with these things and am making efforts to grow in this area.

It is essential for us as Black women to take a hard look at the ways we are complicit in wearing ourselves down. The stress we hold from always carrying a heavy load and taking on too much contributes to the negative health outcomes that we see among Black women. Higher rates of mortality from breast cancer and heart disease and higher rates of other physical illnesses. We also know that stress is a trigger for mental illness. There are a myriad of societal factors outside of our control that negatively impact our health and well being and it’s important that we take responsibility for the things we can control like how much we do.

There are a number of things the cause us to do too much and I’m highlighting them in this post. I encourage you to take some time to reflect honestly on the things that cause you to do too much in your life. To think about the things that prevent you from creating space for the rest and care that you need. Continue reading

Stuck, Not Broken: Understanding Mental Illness

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Picture a young Black girl named Lauren growing up in the suburb of a major city with her family. Her parents are married and she is the middle of 3 children. From the outside their family looks “perfect.” A two-parent household where both parents are working and the family has enough money to cover necessities and some luxury items. However, if you looked inside and observed the family dynamic you might notice something different. Lauren’s parents do not get along well and the conflict between them is frequent. They are never physically violent with each other but they pick on each other’s mistakes and have a very low tolerance for each other’s quirks. Lauren’s parents are also very critical of her and her siblings. They push them hard to succeed and are harsh when their kids do not live up to their expectations. The parents even withhold love and affection from Lauren and her siblings when they make a mistake. In order to survive in this environment, when it felt like Lauren could be critiqued an any moment, when the love from her parents did not feel consistent or stable, Lauren became a perfectionist. She agonized over everything, spending extra hours to make sure that things were perfect. She began to be self-critical to preempt the harsh criticism from her parents if she made a mistake. She has trouble falling asleep at night because she worries about her parents not loving her, about doing something that might cause them to reject her permanently. In Lauren’s efforts to adapt to a difficult home environment, she developed symptoms of anxiety. While her efforts to be perfect may have been adaptive as a child, as an adult these strategies are no longer working for her.

As an adult, Lauren struggles to do things in a timely manner because her perfectionism makes it difficult to get things done. She has internalized her parent’s critical voices and even though she lives 1000s of miles away from them she hears them in her head whenever she is about to do something new or challenging. Lauren has a hard time accepting love and affirmation from other people, romantic partners in particular, because she fears that they will leave her as soon as they find out that she’s not perfect. Lauren feels stressed and on edge all of the time; she has headaches, difficulty sleeping, and an almost constant tightness in her chest. Lauren struggles to accept feedback because she can’t tolerate looking at her mistakes in a constructive way. Lauren is struggling with generalized anxiety disorder. Continue reading

In Praise of Women

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Women. Women have always been a driving force in this world. Embodying the qualities of strength and gentleness simultaneously. Women have served as protectors and providers since the beginning of time. Figuring out ways to make something out of nothing, to move the needle forward in the midst of oppression. Women have kept faith and hope going. Have sung songs and made balms to heal souls and bodies. Women have fed and clothed us. Pushed us to be be better. Women have been at the core all along.

In honor of International Women’s Day, let us remember all that women have done. Let go of the patriarchal narratives that women are weak, not smart enough, not good enough. As we continue to push the world forward and fight for the equality of all women (cis and trans) let us also remember how much we have already done. Let’s celebrate ourselves and our legacies. Let’s celebrate our known and unknown heroines. Let us bask in the glory of womanhood.

As we work to bring about change in this world let us remember the guidance of bell hooks: that we don’t just want to move up in existing patriarchal systems that oppress people of color and those who are not cis and straight. Let us not be constrained by the limited imaginations of men who created structures that were meant to exclude us. Let us work to change the system itself. Imagining something new. Imagining systems that allow us to be our full selves. Systems that support our well being and mental health and embrace all that we bring. Systems that enable us to fully embody our womanhood.

Making Space for Whatever Comes

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Today feels hard. If I’m being honest yesterday and Friday felt kind of tough too. Not overwhelmingly hard but emotionally challenging. I was feeling annoyed and irritable by 10am yesterday and while venting with my co-workers and having a generally good day helped, I still went to bed feeling sad. This morning I awoke noticing that familiar weight and feeling of tightness in my chest, a telltale sign of sadness for me. I’m not sure why I feel sad, maybe it’s my hormones, maybe it’s thinking about the experiences of undocumented immigrants this week that is causing me to feel frustrated, sad, and worried, maybe its the gray and rainy weather we’ve had over the last few days, maybe it’s not getting enough sleep recently. Maybe it’s all of these things. Continue reading

Communication: The Best Valentine’s Day Gift for Your Relationship

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Everyone knows that communication is key in relationships and yet many romantic partners struggle with communication. Difficult discussions quickly devolve into arguments and name-calling. People fail to articulate their thoughts and feelings and then get frustrated when their partners don’t understand them. Through my personal experiences in relationships, hearing about the experiences of my friends, and doing couples therapy with a range of couples, it is clear to me that many people do not know how to communicate in clear and constructive ways with their partners. Despite good intentions, people fall short in their communication and this can derail relationships. In honor of Valentine’s Day and the desire most of us have for healthy relationships this post includes my recommendations for how to begin communicating with your partner in healthy ways.

1. Know that Your Partner Cannot Read Your Mind 

One of the things that derails communication in romantic relationships is people believing that their partner should be able to know what they are thinking and feeling without having to be told. No matter how close and connected you and your partner are, they cannot read your mind. Understanding this fact will save you a lot of grief. People often feel like there is something wrong with their partner or relationship if their partner doesn’t know exactly what is bothering them. Understanding that you must clearly express your feelings, desires, and needs in order for your partner to know them is an important first step in communicating constructively.  Continue reading

“You Can Never Love Anybody if You are Unable to Love Yourself”

smiling-black-woman“One of the best guides to how to be self-loving is to give ourselves the love we are often dreaming about receiving from others. There was a time when I felt lousy about my over-forty body, saw myself as too fat, too this, or too that. Yet I fantasized about finding a lover who would give me the gift of being loved as I am. It is silly, isn’t it, that I would dream of someone else offering to me the acceptance and affirmation I was withholding from myself. This was a moment when the maxim ‘You can never love anybody if you are unable to love yourself’ made clear sense. And I add, ‘Do not expect to receive the love from someone else you do not give yourself.’ – bell hooks (All About Love: New Visions)

For as long as I can remember up until a couple of years ago I was searching, searching for a partner to fill the empty spaces within me. I had this worry that I was not good enough, that I was not lovable. I wash harsh and judgmental with myself when I made mistakes. During this time, I wished for someone else to love me unconditionally. I longed for a partner to provide me with the comfort and encouragement that I rarely offered myself. When I was in relationships I could barely tolerate any indication that my boyfriends might not think I was wonderful. I was overly sensitive to any sign of rejection, sometimes experiencing intense anxiety and starting conflict in response to feeling rejected. While I still struggle with being sensitive to rejection, I look back on my teens and twenties and can see that my challenges in romantic relationships were in part due to the problems in my relationship with myself. As my relationship with myself has healed, my relationships with others have also improved.

In the quote at the beginning of this post, bell hooks encourages us to offer ourselves the love that we dream of. To be our own lover. This is essential, not only for the health of any romantic relationship we might engage in but to feel fulfilled when we are single and to have healthy relationships with family members and friends. When we stop outsourcing what can give ourselves our life and relationships become so much better. In this post I will share my suggestions for ways to begin to improve your relationship with yourself. Continue reading

Where will you stand at times of Challenge & Controversy?

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We are in the midst of trying times. There are so many things and people that are under attack right now: Muslims, undocumented immigrants, women’s rights, the environment, etc. It can be easy to feel overwhelmed and unsure of how to proceed. Unsure of what to do to continue to protect ourselves, our loved ones, and communities that we care about. Now is a time when it is essential that we know what our values are; when we know what matters and we do what matters. When I talk about values in this context I’m referring to things that serve as guides for ongoing action. Values are like a compass that help you to know in which direction you would like to move forward and enable you to determine if you have gotten off track. Our values can help us achieve our goals but are separate from them. Engaging in our values may feel uncomfortable at times and is certainly not always easy but when our behavior is consistently aligned with what matters to us, our lives are enriched.  Continue reading