Sunday, October 3, 2021


Many years ago, I was in a relationship with a man whose house had an odd smell to it, and there were ominous looking dark spots on his ceiling. He had been unwilling to investigate it previously, assuming it was an insignificant issue.  However, by the time I moved in and insisted we have it checked out, it had gotten so bad that the remediation company said we had the highest levels of toxic black mold that they had ever seen.  It had multiplied over the years, starting from a small leak in the ceiling that grew into an infestation that affected the entire house. It required us to move out and dispose of many of our belongings.  I moved out, and moved on from both the toxic mold and the harmful manipulation I had endured throughout that relationship.  Manipulators, like mold, can slowly and stealthily try to take over many areas of your life.  It is important to see the warning signs of both, as your health and well-being depend on it.  

Over the years, and especially during the pandemic, I have had a surprisingly large number of clients contact me for therapy related to narcissistic abuse and other toxic relationship issues.  Sometimes, clients seek out therapy because they are well aware of what has transpired in their relationships, and other times, they are blindsided by the manipulation and emotional abuse they have endured.  The manipulators have been their husbands/wives, boyfriends/girlfriends, dates, friends, and bosses.  Manipulators tend to seek out those that are very empathic, as they feed off of the attention and care that compassionate people give to their partners.  Often, the narcissist will be good looking, charming, intelligent, and appear to be compassionate as well.  They seem to know just what to say and do.  They try to give you what they think you want from them. Sometimes they use drawn out explanations of things, with more detail than might seem necessary.  Despite the detail they use in relaying a story, it can seem like they are giving vague or evasive answers. They may have odd excuses for the simplest things. For example, I met a guy once who told me the reason he was late to our date was that he needed to bike ride over to his brother's house because his brother had a toothache (Spoiler alert: No, he is not a dentist, and no, he was not actually at his brother's house). If you pay close enough attention to the red flags, you may find that things don't add up.  If you figure out that they are being dishonest, and they become aware that you can see through their lies, a manipulator will do anything to either convince you that you are wrong, or they will disconnect from you.  

Unfortunately (but perhaps not surprisingly, as I tend to be an empathic person), I have had my fair share of encounters with toxic people.  I once dated a man for several years who I realized had been cheating on me.  There were multiple signs that he was being unfaithful, such as finding women's clothes and jewelry in his house that did not belong to me or anyone that lived there.  He would not always be where he said he was going to be. He would hide his phone when we were together, and be inaccessible when he was out of town.  He told me when I met him that he had cheated in the past, and that he always had an exit plan in relationships, until he met me (of course). Looking back after the relationship ended, I realized how everything had to be on his terms.  He would talk about how I was the only one for him, but in reality, he was the only one for him.  I should have left as soon as I saw the signs, but like many people do, I tried to communicate about it and make it work, for awhile anyway.  

Sometimes, you find these manipulators already in your work or social circles, which can be especially difficult to navigate. For example, I found myself in the presence of a man who raised red flags, but whom I had to see often in my regular daily life.  From the beginning, I felt he wasn't being truthful, and I pointed out his inconsistencies, as well as the fact that he seemed to be trying to cross boundaries.  It appeared as though he was simply playing a game for his own entertainment. He told me from the beginning "Perception is not reality."  There is some truth to the saying that we see things as we are, not as they actually are.  In this case, however, it seemed like an attempt to tell me that whatever negative thing I would come to think I knew about him, or hear about him (something he was very concerned about), that I would be wrong.  He tried hard to convince me of his good intentions, and I played along for awhile. I tried to give him the benefit of the doubt, and to be friendly, because of the frequency with which we had to cross paths. However, there were too many inconsistencies, and a lot of words not backed up by actions.  When he realized he was unable to convince me, he did what he could to disconnect.  

As in the example of mold discussed earlier, when it comes to a manipulator, you might not always realize right away that there is a problem.  Beautiful paint and decor (like a charming smile and lots of attention) can cover up the toxicity which exists underneath.  Perception is not always reality.  When dealing with a toxic person, it can be difficult to know what is real and what is not.  Over enough time, however, things usually become clear.  The following are ten key points to remember that relate to the examples I just described above.  Keep these in mind if you find yourself dealing with a toxic, manipulative person.

1. Trust your gut. There is research to support the idea that your gut instinct is correct, and aware of pertinent information, even before your logical brain has a chance to process and make sense of it.   

2. Pay attention to actions, not words.  Narcissists, liars, and manipulators tend to say things they think you'll want to hear, but their actions usually fail to back them up.  They may make promises they can't keep, and may insinuate a closer relationship with you than what actually exists. 

3. Keep your eyes and ears open, but keep your observations to yourself. Knowledge is power, but not when it's shared with the manipulator.  

4. Intermittent reinforcement is not good. Recognize it for what it is.  Psychological research shows that reward delivered at irregular intervals results in the greatest effort from research subjects. In toxic relationships, it makes the person feel more bonded to their abuser, and makes them try harder to make things work. The attention and affection from the manipulator is sporadic and unpredictable, which serves to keep the person connected. 

5. The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.  A leopard does not change his spots.  If you think your partner has a history of dishonesty, it would be wise to pay attention, as it is possible for that behavior to continue.   

6. Know your own worth. Once you do, you won't settle for a toxic relationship.  

7. Don't engage. Don't poke the bear.  Don't try to get answers or give explanations.  Just Don't. You will never win with a manipulator.  Freedom from their control or influence is the only way to win.  

8. Peace of mind is priceless.  Always put your well-being first.  It is always better to be alone than to be in a toxic relationship.  

9. True, meaningful connections take time to develop.  "Lovebombing" is when a toxic person showers you with attention, gifts, compliments and affection in the beginning of a relationship, only to later withdraw it.  It is not true love, but part of the cycle of abuse. 

10.  Don't let one bad apple spoil the bunch.  Or rather, don't assume that every person out there (especially in the dating world) is out to take advantage of you. Yes, there are the manipulators.  However, there are still good, honest men and women out in the world trying to make true connections. Take things slowly, keep your eyes and ears open, and true colors will emerge over time.  

Monday, September 7, 2020


As I write this blog entry, we have now been living through the COVID-19 pandemic for the past six months.  In some ways, time has flown by, and in others, it feels like time has stood still.  I have had many thoughts about the pandemic and have made many interesting observations along the way. Yet as I sit here now, on the holiday of Labor Day, it all still seems very surreal.  

Labor Day is an annual tribute to the achievements of American workers.  It originated in the late 19th century at a time when the average American was working long hours, in poor conditions, with little pay. Over time, labor unions began organizing strikes and protests. Eventually, the holiday of Labor Day was created to recognize the contributions of the American worker.  In recent times, Labor Day weekend also represents the end of summer and the start of the back to school season. However, this holiday weekend brings with it many cautions, as the CDC warns that a lack of social distancing is likely to increase spikes in coronavirus cases.   

The pandemic that began towards the end of 2019 has now spanned the entire globe.  At present, it has resulted in over 27 million cases of the COVID-19 virus globally, and 881,000 deaths.  There does not seem to be an end in sight, although there is hope that a safe and effective vaccine will be readily available in 2021.  I have viewed this "unprecedented" time in history from multiple lenses.  As a clinical psychologist, I have seen the detrimental effects it has had on mental health.  Anxiety disorders and depression are at an all time high, and those that used to feel like their mental health challenges were somewhat manageable, now find themselves unable to cope.  I have also seen the grief and loss when client's family members have become sick with the virus and have died.  I have seen the unique challenges the pandemic has created for our youth, and the toll of social isolation and missing out on milestone events.  I have seen how much of a struggle it is to be divorced and try to co-parent when an ex-spouse has different perspectives on what it means to stay safe, and to keep kids safe.  I have seen how parents of young children have struggled with the unique challenges of juggling virtual school and work.  I have personally experienced feeling more at risk because of my health history of being a cancer survivor.  Mostly, however, I have been surprised to see how people's opinions can differ so greatly. I have been disheartened by how much inequality exists in our world, how corrupt politics can be, and how unfortunately, science doesn't always conquer all, especially when it is sometimes blatantly ignored.  

At the start of the pandemic, I moved my psychology practice to Telehealth sessions.  As I was packing up my office, I noticed that the last quote I had written on my quote board was one by Ralph Waldo Emerson. "Fear defeats more people than any other one thing in the world." At this point, I'm thinking COVID-19 might be the one thing that defeats more people than anything else in the world.  However, fear is certainly vast and powerful in these uncharted times. The anxiety and uncertainty that humans have faced due to this pandemic is likely to persist for years after this global crisis ends.  Through the toilet paper shortage, the stay at home orders, the unemployment rates, the online schooling, and everything in between, we have learned just one thing is certain.  That is, there really is no certainty in life. You can't always predict or plan for tomorrow.  If we've learned nothing else from these challenging times, we've certainly learned that you never know what tomorrow brings.  Learning to be flexible and adapt to uncertainty is possibly the most important life skill you can ever learn.  It is also one of the most difficult.  Additionally, we've learned how important it is to appreciate the people in your life, because you never know what might happen that will prevent you from getting to see them again.  For single people, such as myself, the pandemic has taught us even more about coping with increased times of isolation. 

For some, the pandemic has created an increase in feelings of guilt and questions of morality.  The idea that socializing with others has become dangerous is something we would not normally think about.  I find many people struggling with whether or not they are "bad" if they choose to attend a social event or decline it.  These are questions we may ask ourselves now that would never have been factors in our decision making in the past.  Likewise, wearing a mask (or not wearing one) has certainly become a focus of conflict.  I will admit, I've been surprised at how many people refuse to wear a mask to protect themselves and others.  Just the other day I was in line to use a public restroom, and the other people nearby smirked and laughed at me for wearing a mask. Likewise, I was discouraged to see patients and staff at a medical office without properly worn masks. The issue of masks has been at the center of violence in many situations and places.   

In the beginning of spring, when our country was becoming overwhelmed with increasing cases and deaths from the virus, my clients with OCD would tell me how they felt better than their friends and family.  Ironically, they were coping better than others, as they felt they had been preparing for this their whole lives.  Avoiding germs and contamination came naturally to them.  Granted, for some of my anxious clients it was the tipping point in which they felt they could not handle any other stressor in addition to this one.   However, some felt like the rest of the world was finally getting to know what it was like to have mental health challenges. Did anyone without anxiety ever think of disinfecting their groceries before this pandemic hit? Unlikely.  Suddenly germaphobia was the norm.  Similarly, for my introverted or socially anxious clients, the stay at home order was a nice reprieve from the social pressures of our fast paced daily lives.  

So what are all these "pandemic ponderings" really about, besides just describing my observations? And what, if anything, does a pandemic have to do with Labor Day anyway?  It comes down to one thing, really. The only way for us to overcome COVID-19 is to work together.  Whether it's working together towards a vaccine, or working to teach our children virtually or in person, or working to help our friends and family stay healthy and safe, the only way to do so is to join together.  On this Labor Day, let us remember that this holiday is not just about barbecues and family and friends, but rather it is a tribute to the contributions workers have made towards the strength and prosperity of our country.  It took a common goal and joint effort to get to a point where workers could see improvements in their work life, and have a national holiday created to acknowledge them.  The unrest and rallies and protests that ensued for years before Labor Day became a holiday is a reminder of how we cannot give up when people's health and safety depend on it.  In my opinion, the next celebration of strength, well being, and contribution, such as historically describes Labor Day, would be the day that our world overcomes COVID-19, together. Happy Labor Day, and please be safe!

Tuesday, October 16, 2018


In my private practice, I often see clients who are struggling with feelings of loneliness and isolation. Many state that, if only they felt less lonely, they would be able to experience more in their life, and they would be happier.  People feel lonely for different reasons.  Some may experience loneliness because they are without a significant other, while it can seem like the rest of the world is coupled up.  Some feel lonely because of a lack of friends and social support.  Some feel lonely because they actually do have a partner, or a large social network, yet they still feel separate and alone, despite this social connectedness.  Whatever the cause of one's loneliness, the irony of it is that we all feel lonely at one time or another.  Loneliness, which makes us feel separate from others, is actually the emotion that unites us all together.

Like most people, I have known different kinds of loneliness. I've known the unique loneliness of temporarily living in a foreign country and having everyone I know thousands of miles away.  I've known the more common loneliness of being in unhappy relationships.  Being in a bad relationship can often make people feel more lonely than if they were actually alone.  I've also known the loneliness of losing friendships, of not seeing my kids every day, and of battling medical issues without family or a significant other around.  Most importantly, I have known that, regardless of these life challenges, the feelings of loneliness are temporary and changeable.  We are all connected by the universal human experience of feeling lonely.  It is ironic that, when you have times that you feel all alone, you are actually experiencing the same feelings shared by many others.

Loneliness and social isolation not only challenge our emotional well-being, but threaten our physical health as well.  Research has found an association between loneliness and increased risk of mortality.  This may be due to many factors. For example, social connection is associated with positive health behaviors, such as eating healthy, getting exercise, and receiving medical care.  In contrast, loneliness can influence people to engage in behaviors that are not good for their health, such as smoking, drinking, drug use, and weight gain. Relationships can make people feel accepted and cared for, and thereby reduce the impact of stress, whereas loneliness can have direct negative effects on the immune system.  There have been increased studies in recent years on the association between loneliness and health problems.  These include conditions such as high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer's disease, depression, suicide, cancer, and obesity.

Today's world of technology and social media certainly plays a role in the issue of loneliness.  There are several ways of thinking about this. We can view it as a remedy to social isolation, as it connects people all over the world.  For example, if you are struggling in some way, there are websites and chat rooms to find support and feel less alone in facing challenges.  If you are looking for friends or a date, there are apps to connect you to others looking for the same thing.  However, social media can  have its drawbacks.  Social media tends to create an atmosphere of increased social comparison that might not occur to such an extent without the internet.  We can see this to be true especially for teenagers.  If you can see that all your peers are at a party without you, or that you're the only one who didn't find a date for the dance, or the only one who didn't make the basketball team, then social media can increase feelings of aloneness.

If you are feeling lonely or socially isolated, there are steps you can take to change this. Try volunteering for a cause you believe in, as helping others can bring a sense of community.  Join a club or group where you can meet like-minded people and spend time doing activities you enjoy.  Make a phone call to that longtime friend or family member whom you haven't spoken to in years.  Even spending a few minutes talking to a stranger standing in line with you at the grocery store can make you both feel more connected to the social world.  If loneliness becomes chronic for you, don't hesitate to reach out for professional help.  Speaking to a psychologist can help you identify negative thinking and behaviors that may impact your feelings of loneliness, as well as take steps to feel more connected and less alone.

Friday, June 22, 2018


In recent weeks, the media has been inundated with stories of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, two beloved icons whose lives each came to an end by suicide.  Since then, I've had numerous clients tell me that their reactions were shock, disappointment, and fear.  Many have questioned that, if these two people who had fame, fortune, and success were suffering so much that they needed to end their lives, then how can that bode well for the rest of us? If these two people who seemed to have had it all could not get through their pain, then what is the likelihood that the average person can? It is important to realize that their deaths do not have to be a sign that things are hopeless.  Rather, it shows us that life can be hard, no matter what one's circumstances are, and that mental health challenges can be part of the reality of being a human being.  However, psychological difficulties do not have to lead to the end of a life.  Hopefully, if nothing else, these tragic events have opened up more discussion about mental health issues, and the resources available to people who are struggling with them.  With more openness and less stigma regarding depression and anxiety, more people can receive the help that they need, and precious lives can be saved.

Kate Spade, who died at age 55, was a successful handbag designer and a loving mother to her daughter.  Her husband had moved out ten months before her death, on a temporary break intended to help them work through resolving the problems in their marriage.  Articles that have been written about Kate Spade following her suicide have reported that she had a history of anxiety and depression.  Her friends were quoted saying that she probably never realized how loved she was or how much she touched the lives of other people.  That is a reminder that we should always make sure to tell the people in our lives how much they mean to us, because they may not realize how much they are valued.  Like Kate Spade, Anthony Bourdain appeared to be living a successful and rewarding life.  He died of suicide at age 61, within days of Kate Spade's death.  He had traveled all over the world, inspiring people from all walks of life. He was an executive chef, a talented writer, and television celebrity.  However, despite his success, it is reported that he struggled with depression, and formerly struggled with drug addiction. He had an 11 year old daughter, a girlfriend, and a previous wife from whom he was separated.

It appears that for the most part, both Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain lived a life surrounded by friends and loved ones.  They seemed to have had the kind of lives that many people envy.  However, they were struggling with inner turmoil, which they seemed to have kept fairly private matters.  It should be noted that there is no shame in opening up about one's struggles. There should be no stigma associated with mental health problems such as depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, etc.  By opening up to others about these challenges, it can bring much needed hope and support.  For example, last night, my twelve year old son and I attended the Imagine Dragons concert.  Not only was it an amazing show, but the lead vocalist Dan Reynolds took the opportunity to talk to the audience about his own battle with depression. He spoke about this prior to performing the hit song "Demons".  I commend him for his goal of encouraging people to seek mental health services if they are struggling, and for being open about his own experiences.  Reynolds talked about the stigma of mental health problems in society and how it is hurting us, especially our youth.  He stated that there is nothing shameful about having depression or anxiety. He told the audience that he has a therapist, that he thinks everyone should have a therapist, and that needing help does not make someone weak or broken.  He reminded the audience several times that they are not broken, that life is always worth living, and that things do get better.

Some people struggle with chronic anxiety and depression, and others may only experience it once in awhile.  Either way, I think it can be useful to think about it as a storm. When we are in a depressed cloud, or an anxious cloud, as I often refer to it, we can't see what's beyond the storm.  The cloud takes over and colors our perception of everything around us.  We don't realize that tomorrow the sun may come out, and that the clouds might disappear.  Through therapy, and in some cases medication, it is possible to battle and overcome the clouds.  It is easy to get lost in the pain of a single moment, or even days or weeks of painful moments.  However, therapy can teach us how to better navigate life's painful times, manage negative moods, and provide us with coping strategies to diminish anxiety and stress. It can help us see that things can in fact get better, and that when the cloud lifts, one's world looks like a very different place.  Please don't allow yourself to get lost in the storm clouds of anxiety and depression. Reach out and ask for help.

The CDC reports that suicide in the U.S. has gone up by more than thirty percent between 1999 and 2016.  Anxiety and depression are the leading mental health problems with which people struggle, and both have been associated with a risk for suicide.  Similarly, things like substance abuse, social isolation, financial difficulties, and relationship issues are all factors that can impact someone's ability to cope.  If you struggle with anxiety or depression, please contact a professional who can help you learn strategies to fight back against the storm.  If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, please text "home" to the Crisis Text Line at 741741, go to the website, or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Saturday, February 24, 2018


A friend told me recently that one of the things he respects and admires about me most is that I am kind to everyone, even those that don’t necessarily deserve it.  I had to stop and think about this for a minute, as there are many pros and cons to being that way.  In our ever-changing,  competitive, and at times, violent world, kindness certainly seems to be becoming more scarce.  I was flattered by my friend’s comment, as I take pride in the fact that I try to be a kind and decent human being.  Yet, in different areas of my life, I have also experienced the many downsides of being this way.

Perhaps kindness is what makes me successful in my career.  As a psychologist, I need to be able to empathize with another person’s feelings and perspectives.  I believe that my clients feel understood and respected by me, which allows them to trust me to be able to help them with their struggles.  However, in my personal life, it has often put me at a disadvantage.   I have had countless friendships in which I have given more than I received, which eventually came to an end. I have had more than my share of romantic relationships in which I took second place to a slew of other priorities of my partner.

Yet, despite these negative experiences, I can’t help but believe that it is kindness that is the key to happiness.   Think about it. If every time someone were to be kind to a person in need, the world could be a very different place.  Potentially, things like bullying, suicide, and discrimination could on some level be diminished.  If every time people reacted in kindness to those in need, our daily lives might be very different.

So, why is it that we can’t be kinder? What is the reason behind that? I believe it is selfishness.  People tend to put their own needs before everyone else’s.  If they don’t, they believe they will be at a disadvantage. Look at all the movies and television shows that are about competitiveness as a necessity for survival.  Whether it be a reality tv dating show, or a reality show about human survival, it is competitiveness that decreases kindness.  Why not be happy for others’ successes, while at the same time still striving for your own? Or better yet, help someone else to be successful! I don’t think people should be kind because they think it will benefit them, such as bringing good karma or recognition.  I think we should be kind because that is exactly what the world needs!

There is nothing like becoming a parent to teach us about the need for kindness.  I remember when my oldest child was a newborn.  I started to believe that I was not my own person, as every waking moment was about making her comfortable, happy, and secure.  Hours upon hours would be spent holding and soothing her, until her colic settled down and she was able to not rely on me for every single thing.  To this day, I believe that my sensitivity to her needs (in other words, my kindness), is part of the reason she has turned into the amazing individual that she is today.  Likewise, although my son didn’t have the same struggles as a newborn that my daughter did, I still had to put kindness first when he was born. I am certain this has had a positive impact on who he has become as well.  (Now that they are a teenager and a pre-teen, I sometimes wonder where all my kindness/patience has gone, but that is for another blog entry some other time! ;)

Kindness does not make you weak.  Kindness does not make you a pushover.  Kindness does not make you undesirable.  Kindness does, at times, put you in harm’s way, as there are many people who will try to take advantage of it. Nevertheless, kindness enriches your life by giving you the power to make a difference in someone else’s world.  As the famous quote reads, “To the world you may be one person, but to one person you may be the world.” I will never give up trying to be kind.  I am fully aware that it has its potential drawbacks.  However, I can only hope that the people in my life see and appreciate the kindness inside me.  I can also hope that they will take their cues from me and work on doing the same.

Saturday, January 6, 2018


I have a picture in my bedroom that states, "You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have."  A friend gave this to me after I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2013.  Since then, the words have applied to so many life events besides cancer.  Reading it has helped me in many ways.  It is a reminder that I am strong and can face whatever comes my way.  However, I suppose the alternative way of looking at this statement is that you do in fact have a choice.  You can choose to try to be strong, or you can choose to give up.  When life throws its punches (and let's face it, we all know it does), you have the choice to stand up and fight, or to take yourself out of the ring.  Rocky Balboa taught us that "It ain't about how hard you hit, it's about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward."  These are words that I have remembered since my diagnosis.  Perseverance in the face of any kind of adversity is essential to one's well-being.

When I became a breast cancer survivor, I vowed never to give up my strength, no matter what the circumstances.  We've all had to face obstacles, both big and small.  Mine are not uncommon.  Over the years, they've included things like divorce, single parenting (particularly challenging when my kids were babies), family all in other states, getting my education and establishing my own psychology practice, death of loved ones (especially my mom), multiple health challenges, multiple moves, two-faced friends, cheating partners, etc.  So many things in life can tear down one's strength! The goal is to grow from the challenges, rather than give in and let them suck away your power.

While working with clients facing all kinds of hardships, I try to help them see how much stronger they have become as a result of these events.  Whether teenagers, adults, or couples, my clients are one step ahead because they have decided to fight back against whatever obstacles they are facing.  Sometimes people come to see me feeling they are "weak" or "broken" from whatever adversity they are fighting. However, I don't view it this way.  They are there, in my office, making efforts to improve themselves and their situation.  They are not taking the easy way out, or giving up.  They are warriors!  Ernest Hemingway said, "The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places." It's those people who stay in the boxing ring of life, that don't give up the fight,  that come out stronger.

When life, people, and things all challenge your strength, remember who you really are at your core.  Remember your strength.  Remember your own power.  In the past, I have been challenged not to give up on what I know to be true, despite the negativity around me.  I am a kind, honest, caring, intelligent woman.  I've devoted my career to understanding and helping others.  I am a single mother who puts my children first.  I am a cancer survivor.  When people and events around me threaten to take away my inner strength, I remember in my heart who I really am, and what it is I stand for.

This year, let's all try to strengthen each other, not tear each other down.  Its easy to get caught up in what other people are doing or saying, or to allow others negativity to wear us down.  Be the one who stands by others and helps them feel supported.  When someone you know wants to step out of the ring, because the challenges have become too much, be the positive voice that helps them to not give up.  One of the greatest challenges of life is feeling like you are alone to battle obstacles.  Over the years, I've learned what that is like, whether it was battling cancer, battling gossip, or battling any other hardship alone.  In this new year, when adversity strikes you or your loved ones, let's all remember the words of Rocky Balboa, "Going in one more round when you don't think you can, that's what makes all the difference in your life."

Sunday, September 17, 2017


Last weekend, for many people living in Florida, time suddenly stood still.  Trivial decisions, such as what to watch on television, or where to go for dinner, no longer mattered.  Daily challenges that had previously occupied a family’s attention seemed to disappear, unless they were directly related to survival. This was true for my immediate family members as well, as they suddenly found themselves in the direct path of Hurricane Irma.

There is nothing like a natural disaster, even if not directly affected by it, to remind us of the fragility of life.  There are so many things in life that are out of our immediate control, and a hurricane certainly highlights this fact.  When I learned that my family members were choosing to remain at home, rather than evacuate, I was concerned. I felt helpless to do anything, as I certainly cannot control a hurricane (or for that matter, my family members’ minds once they decide something). Safe in my home a thousand miles away, I realized there was nothing I could possibly do about the situation but wait.  When I tried calling my father in the early morning hours the day after the hurricane, he didn’t answer.  I then reached out to my brother, who also lives in Florida. My brother stated that his own family was safe and that if we didn’t hear from my father by the afternoon, he would drive over to his house an hour away to check on him.  As it turned out, that wasn’t necessary. I was able to reach my stepmother, who assured me that my father was home, safe in his bed, catching up on his sleep.    

While the anxiety brought on by a natural disaster can be overwhelming, it doesn’t take a hurricane to cause many people to worry, sometimes in debilitating ways.  Most of the clients I see in my psychology practice are attending therapy sessions in order to learn how to manage their anxiety. Whether it be generalized anxiety, social anxiety, health anxiety, post traumatic stress, panic attacks, obsessive compulsive disorder, or phobias, they are all hoping to learn techniques to minimize their worry, and to be able to accept uncertainty.   

Anxiety is a powerful thing.  It can rob individuals of daily happiness.  Despite rational, logical thinking, it can convince people of the most negative outcomes they can imagine.  I often refer to it as a “Worry Bully”.  Bullies don’t stop until they get what they want.  For individuals with anxiety, worry can be relentless.  It can feel like being powerless in the path of a hurricane.   One of the approaches I take with my clients is that if they can take productive action of some kind to decrease their worry, then they should do so.  It allows one to exert control over a situation.  For example, many people evacuated their homes to try to increase their chances of staying safe during Hurricane Irma.  My family chose to stay rather than to evacuate.  They took a different form of action, by preparing themselves with supplies for their homes and gas for their cars.  However, there was not a single thing I could do for them. So, I didn’t do anything, including attempting not to worry.  Worrying wasn’t going to keep them safe.  Some of my clients have expressed that worrying is comforting because it seems like a way to protect themselves from bad things happening to them.  However, worry doesn’t protect us.  Rather, it depletes us of the energy we need to successfully navigate challenging situations.

Last weekend was difficult, and the proactive approaches that could be taken were limited. Next weekend, however, is going to be an opportunity for me personally to be proactive for a different kind of issue.  Next weekend, during the high school varsity football game, I will be participating in a halftime processional which will honor both victims and survivors of breast cancer. As a survivor, I feel it’s important to take actions to increase awareness for this common type of cancer. Participating in this halftime event at the football game is my small way of taking action for a cause I believe in. In the past, I have been a survivor speaker for the Relay for Life, as well as a participant for several years in the Making Strides for Breast Cancer walk.  I will continue to try to do my part to raise awareness and funds for breast cancer research and treatment.

Whether it be health or hurricanes, we must accept that there are many things in life that are beyond our control.  There are things like natural disasters and disease that can be more powerful forces than we are.  Yet, that shouldn’t stop us from doing what we can to be happy, and try to make the most out of our daily lives.  Rather than make us worry, the uncertainties in life should motivate us to make every day count. Tomorrow is not promised.  As the Dove chocolate candy commercial tells us, “Live Each Day As If It’s The Only One.”