Empathy

I think a lot about empathy. When I hear or read of a situation or event, or when I’m considering the lives of the people who are dear to me, I try to take the perspective of that person (or, in all honesty, that being; I do this with my dogs, too…). I try to understand what they are feeling, or how they would feel in certain situations, and if that feeling is strong enough, I’ll begin to experience the physiological markers that typically go with the feeling. My eyes will water if I’m empathizing with sadness, or I’ll start to feel a lump in my throat.

Lately I’ve been thinking about which feelings tend to bring out a stronger physiological reaction for me. And I wonder if the strength of the somatic experience is relative to how much I identify with a particular feeling in my own life experiences. Anger doesn’t really bring up much for me. Sadness, depending on the context, may result–as I said above–in watery eyes.

Fear seems to be my big one. When I consider the amount of fear experienced by a child or an animal in a scary situation that they don’t necessarily have the capacity to understand, I get that pit-of-the-stomach anxious feeling, my throat feels like it’s closing up, my heart starts pounding. It’s like I’m having my own panic attack, but in response to another being’s fear–even if I’ve only read a sentence about a dog that was abused by its owner.

I’ve spent a good chunk of the past 25 years being afraid of or anxious about various things, and I wonder if this is why I seem to have a stronger empathetic response to those who are afraid–and particularly those who are afraid and cannot understand what’s going on.

Just a late-night glimpse in my thought processes. I’d love to read any insight or comments on this topic.

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Savour the Positive

As I approach the 60%-done mark for my nutrition program, I’ve been doing some reflecting—about school, about life, about work. School…hasn’t been difficult, really, in terms of subject matter. But I’m finding it difficult to remain engaged. I’m feeling a bit burnt out, to be honest, which is rather disappointing because prior to the start of summer term at MUIH, I was very excited about taking “Mindfulness, Meditation, and Health.” At the same time, I’ve been taking two classes at SWIHA—originally one class, this is the first time they’ve split it into two full courses (and they ARE full courses, despite being labeled as 20 hours as opposed to 40 hours). I think that, as far as school goes, I’ve been spending most of my time on the SWIHA nutrition classes and much less on MUIH. After this week, I will only have one class at each school, so hopefully I will feel a little less weary and a little more energized and clear-headed.

Another source of my somewhat muddled outlook involves my desire to move to Charleston, SC. It’s been nearly two months since I posted about this potential life change, and unfortunately, I’m still in Pennsylvania. I suppose I was a bit naïve to think it would be fairly easy to find (and obtain) a job and move down there. But compared to what I’ve found in the Pittsburgh area, Charleston had so many job openings, and I applied to so many of them. This resulted in a single interview at one place (that didn’t go very well) and an email from another place, asking if I’m available for an interview (to which I responded, and then I never received an answer from them). I’m highly qualified for (most of) the jobs I’ve applied for, and I’m feeling a little disappointed and discouraged. I adored Charleston when I visited, and ever since I got back, I’ve been hoping I’ll be able to return soon, permanently. It’s disheartening to not know when I’ll be able to go back. At the same time, I’m still relatively positive about my future being in Charleston—it will happen; it’s just a matter of when. I still look at job postings every day (sometimes twice), and I apply for several jobs each week. At this point, I’m thinking it might work out for the best if I don’t make it there until after summer. It’s going to take a lot for me to get used to the heat.

So for now, I’m still at the same job I’ve been at for almost two years, although I currently only have 6.5 client hours per week. I’ve applied for a part-time internship to help pilot a workplace wellness program in Pittsburgh; my school advisor was unable to give a lot of details, but I figured it wouldn’t hurt to apply and find out more information. I’m also working on getting my coaching practice started; I’m developing a business plan and considering the services I want to offer right off the bat, as well as some ideas for things I might want to implement later one. Ideally I’ll have my website up and running by the end of the month.

To end this post on a super high note, I’ll be attending a Wanderlust festival in Snowshoe, WV this weekend. If you aren’t familiar with Wanderlust, it’s a “yoga festival,” but it’s much more than that. They have yoga classes, of course, but also meditation classes, music performances, group hikes, lectures, dance classes, local and sustainable foods, etc. When I initially registered, I intended to take a few yoga classes. However, since I haven’t practiced yoga in AGES, I’ve decided to use this weekend to focus on my mind and switched my schedule to almost all meditation classes, with a couple lectures thrown in for good measure. This weekend is going to be good for me, I’m sure of it (although my mom thinks I won’t make it through the weekend being surrounded by all the strangers…thanks, Mom). Also, I’m going to be camping for three nights in a tent—totally new experience for me. That might be more difficult to adjust to than the people.

All in all, I’m not too thrilled with where I am now and what I’m doing now, but I’m trying to make the most of it. It’s given me the opportunity to revisit positive psychology–challenging my negativity bias by savouring the positive and taking in the good. As always, everything is a learning experience, and I cherish it as such. 🙂 Be well, friends.

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Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes (Potentially)

Now that I’ve given my employer a heads-up, I guess it’s okay to post here. I’m in the very early stages of attempting a big move from Pennsylvania to Charleston, South Carolina. Here’s the story of how this came about:

Late summer or early fall last year, my parents and I were discussing potentially moving south. They initially brought up North Carolina, as my brother and sister were both living there at that time. From what I’ve seen in my research, I would not be able to legally dispense nutrition advice if I set up my coaching and wellness practice in NC (as apparently only Registered Dietitians can do that), so I mentioned I might have to live in South Carolina instead.

Fast forward to mid-February, maybe, when I began to see stuff for Charleston everywhere—TV, books, magazines (and yes, Internet, where marketing ads read our minds—and our browsing histories). Then fast forward a little more, to when my brother got a job in Charleston, and then to two weeks ago when he moved there. Needless to say, the Universe has been calling me there, and it continues to do so. One of my classmates lives there, and we’ve been discussing it a lot. Another classmate is looking to move there, and we’ve been considering a potential roommate situation while we decide if the city will suit us. Before the start of my MBSR retreat, I heard some classmates across the room talking about Charleston, and rather than being a wallflower and just eavesdropping, I politely inserted myself into their conversation to learn more and share my desire to move there. (I never do stuff like that with people I don’t know well, so this was a big deal.)

So for the past couple of weeks, I’ve been job searching and apartment hunting and dreaming. I’ve applied for 15-16 jobs in the last two weeks, for positions in social work, counseling/therapy, child care, nannying. Ideally, I would love to get my coaching practice off the ground and take on a side position as a nanny because that would help pay the bills, it would be something I enjoy, and I wouldn’t have to bring it home with me. Unfortunately, the families looking for full-time nannies seem to need 10 hours a day, and I cannot leave my dog home alone that long. I don’t even leave him alone now for more than 4-5 hours.

So while this has all been terribly exciting, it’s also becoming a little scary as it becomes more “real.” This morning, I received an email from an organization I applied with last night, and all they were doing was asking me to fill out their actual application and to clarify my intention to relocate. But they’re the first to show any interest in my resume, and that’s triggered kind of a mass internal panic, with questions flying all over the place in my head:

What if I can’t find a decent place to live? What will I do with Watson when I have to work 8 hours a day, with nobody home to let him out? I’ve never lived on my own before, what if I fail at being an adult? Yes, my plan was to be out of my parents’ house by the time I turn 30 next year, but really, what if I suck at this? Should I go ahead and apply for my social work license in SC? Should I go ahead and apply for the nanny positions that I might be able to handle? But what if I connect with a family and then I get a job offer for a position that pays significantly more? What if I can’t afford furniture when I get there?

Yes, these are the kinds of ridiculous “what-ifs” that flew through my head as I was doing the dishes a little bit ago, along with thoughts of “I need to make lists! Lists of everything I need! Lists make everything better!” I think part of the reason is that I’m a worrier, of course, but another part is that this is a big, huge, ginormous step that I’m trying to take—and that’s just not like me. I dream about things, I make plans in my head, but it’s only once in a blue moon that I really follow through with something like this.

Once I realized I was pacing around the kitchen with all these thoughts in my head, I did, in fact, begin to make a mental list to counteract the stressful, worrying thoughts, and I’ll continue that list here:

Reasons Why I’m Excited to Move Out On My Own and My Hopes for South Carolina

  1. I will have full, matching sets of food storage containers in my kitchen. Each tub will have its corresponding lid, and there will be no extras, and there will be no need to search for missing pieces.
  2. I can control the food that comes into my house.
  3. I can go to the beach anytime I want.
  4. Hope: My health will improve just by being in the southern climate. Anytime I go on vacation in the south, my persistent cough goes away, I don’t get migraines or headaches as frequently, and my mood improves. I hope this trend will continue in the long-term…and I hope that the extra humidity will help with my dry skin!
  5. With better weather, I will be more active and happier. Part of the reason I want to live in the south is because the winter months exacerbate my typical year-round depression, and I don’t think I can take another Pennsylvania winter.
  6. Hope: Through more activity, better mood, and more control over food, I hope that I will begin to lose my unwanted weight and become stronger.
  7. Once I leave my current job, I can just throw away and/or shred all of the job-related papers that are piled up on my desk. And I can get rid of the toys/games that I use with my clients.
  8. Overall, I like the idea of starting over in a new place because it is going to force me to downsize, get rid of all my clutter, and not have as much junk.
  9. Hope: I hope that I’ll be able to get a 2-bedroom apartment so that I can have a separate room use as an office/crafting workspace. If I can only afford a 1-bedroom, then the living room area will have to suit that purpose.
  10. Living on my own, I can choose all the household things that I want to use—laundry detergent, cleaning supplies, etc.
  11. A project this big gives me lots of opportunities to make lists—something I adore, in case you couldn’t tell.
  12. I love storms, and I imagine they’re much more exciting in Charleston than they are here.
  13. It’ll be nice to live closer to my oldest siblings for a change (one still in North Carolina—for now, at least—and the other, as I said, in Charleston). I’ll miss my parents (until they almost-inevitably move down there) and the opportunities to see my other brother (though that doesn’t happen frequently, anyway), but a change in company will be fun.

In making that list, I realized that there are also things I’ll be sad about when I go, but for now, I’m looking at the good stuff!

Next steps: keep applying for jobs, make a list (!) of apartments I want to look at, and if needed, make appointments to view them when I go down to visit at the end of the month.

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School Updates and Stuff

Coming up on the end of the trimester in a few weeks. I have my oral exam for Applied Healing Strategies Monday night–where I get a one-page write-up of where an unknown client is in his/her coaching program and I spend 15 minutes coaching him/her. I’ve finished coaching programs with two clients, and I’m “finishing” with a third next week (to fulfill the course requirement of having a completion session; this client actually wants to continue working together). Then it’s just a couple weeks more of professional development and completing my case write-ups–which will be a trial because I’m really bad at writing session notes after each session, and I have to go back through all of my notes from the past 3 months to summarize each session.

Mind Body Science, well…I honestly can’t wait for this course to be over. I’m not doing poorly in it—in fact, I have a pretty good grade. But I may have mentioned previously that I’m “science-stupid.” I really have a significant amount of trouble learning, understanding, and retaining science-based knowledge. So I’m not sure how much I’ve actually learned throughout this course. And it turns out that I don’t even need it, after switching my concentration from Nutrition to Integrative Health Practices; unfortunately, by the time I switched, it was too late to drop the course and still get my tuition refunded.

I’m not sure if I mentioned before, but after switching my concentration, I also enrolled in a Holistic Nutrition Specialist certificate program at the Southwest Institute of Healing Arts in Arizona. The program consists of five 5-week classes, and I just finished the first class—Foundations of Transformational Healing and Holistic Nutrition. There’s a lot of great information, and I’m learning a lot, although I don’t care at all for the online class set-up so far. Hopefully the next class—Understanding Macronutrients and Micronutrients for Optimum Health, which starts tomorrow—is better, but it may be that all the online classes have similar formats.

Final update: Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction. I’m more than halfway through the course, and we just had our full-day silent mindfulness retreat today. Seven hours of mindfulness practices, one after another. Lots of people were anxious about the silent aspect, but I was looking forward to it. I drove down to Shadyside this morning without even turning the radio or my iPod on, and while I was excited, I also tried not to have any expectations. All in all, it was a good day of practice, although I did find it very difficult to get physically comfortable during all of the practices.

My biggest takeaway from the day was lunchtime—we had an hour to eat our lunches silently, mindfully, and solo. I had brought baked beans, peas, and a banana—stuff that would typically take me less than 10 minutes to eat. I was incredibly mindful about everything from removing the containers from the bag, setting up my space, drinking my water, taking bites (one pea or one bean at a time, to start, then moving onto spoonfuls—all the while observing taste, texture, temperature, smell, etc.), chewing a lot more than I usually do, and putting my spoon down between bites. Once I was done eating, I packed my things away, walked down the hall, grabbed a big peppermint, and sat down on a cushion for what I internally called “Meditation on a Mint”—only to hear the transition bell ring maybe 3-4 minutes later. My actual meal lasted nearly an hour because I was being so mindful about it! It didn’t even feel like that long; I had guessed maybe 25 minutes. It was surreal.

I did end up hitting a wall about 5 hours in, when I just wasn’t able to settle at all anymore. While everyone else did their unguided walking meditation, I did that for maybe 10 minutes, then tried to do a sitting meditation, then tried to do a lying-down meditation, but I was just done. I had a hard time deciding whether or not to leave early—was I staying because I felt I needed to or that it would be good for me, or was I staying because I felt like people would judge if I left early? I did end up leaving an hour early—and I was perfectly okay with it. (I did wait until after our mindful snack before leaving, though!)

So that’s my big update on education and professional development. There’s a lot going on, and there’s about to be even more going on, if all goes the way I want it to. No details yet, although some of you who have come over from Facebook have probably seen. Just keep your fingers crossed for me. 🙂

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Sharing is Caring

I’ve written a couple of forum posts for my classes recently that I wanted to share. The first was for my Mind Body Science course, during the module in which we explored the role of spirit and spirituality in the mind-body connection. We were directed to write our “spiritual autobiography” and to discuss the influences that have helped make us who we are. Here is what I posted:

Oneness

This has been a very difficult assignment for me, as I don’t really consider myself to be a very spiritual person, and I couldn’t really identify any creative works, events, people that have influenced me in a spiritual way. After days of thinking it over, I finally just asked myself, “What do I believe in?” and decided to free-write. That made it a little bit easier to start, but we’ll see what the outcome is.

I believe in interconnection between people, animals, and nature. I believe that everything we do affects others, even people we’ve never met before or will never meet. I believe in the power of a strong sense of belonging, although that is something that’s currently missing in my life. I believe in love, compassion, shared experience, and affection.

The idea of shared experience, in particular, is something that has cropped up in my life at various points, mostly since my late teens. I’ve experienced trauma, mental illness, and loss, and I’ve discovered the importance of knowing that there are other people in the world who have been in my shoes. Even if I never meet or speak to those people and only read or hear their stories, just knowing that we have that connection of a shared experience is important to my sense of self and my understanding of the world. I believe that everyone has some kind of connection or shared interest/experience with everyone else, something that can create a bond on some level.

Even with 7 billion people on this earth, it truly is a small world, and I’ve discovered that through my travels. I’m from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and I spent 3 months in Ireland as an exchange student in 2006. During those three months, I met another person from Pittsburgh at a pub; I took a weekend trip with a group that included a young woman from Germany who had been an exchange student at a high school 20 minutes away from my own high school; and I met a guy from the Czech Republic who did not speak English, but as soon as I said I was from Pittsburgh, his eyes lit up and he said the name of a Czech hockey player who played for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The human connection is something that fascinates me and that I hold in very high regard. Whether I’m reading something on PostSecret and saying, “hey, me, too!”, reminiscing about my time as a volunteer with children in Romania as I look at a stranger’s pictures of their own time there, empathizing with someone who has lost a loved one, or reading a story about a random act of kindness—each experience of that interconnection, no matter how simple or small, has me awestruck at the Oneness of humanity and the idea that I share something powerful, wonderful—and yes, sometimes painful—with people I will never meet. In that moment, I know them. I am them.

~

The second post comes from this week in my Applied Healing Strategies course. We’re into the professional development segment of this course, when we learn how to really explore our visions for our practices and how to begin to bring the vision into reality.

Why Do I Serve?

Prompt: Why do you feel called to do the work that you do?  What is your vision in terms of how you are helping facilitate transformation in the lives of others through coaching? This is about connecting to your purpose.  Connect to the spirit of your work, where energy comes through to serve others and ground this in the world.

I’ve been thinking about this question, “why do I serve?” for several days, and my absolute simplest answer is, “because I can.”

I thought of Mister Rogers’ quote about looking for the “helpers,” and I thought about how I’ve always gravitated towards that role–in school and extracurriculars, in college, in travel. It’s why I studied social work. I always knew that I would end up in some kind of helping professional because I’ve always had the mindset of, “If I have something to offer that somebody else can use, why shouldn’t I share it?” Whether it’s money, food, fun, material goods, knowledge…I’m willing to share it with whomever needs it.

In the case of coaching, change is difficult, and it’s extra difficult when we try to navigate it alone. Potential clients need help in order to help themselves, and I plan to serve in that helping role once again by sharing my knowledge, expertise, and skills.

~

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My Healing Narrative, Part 2

Last week, I posted about the healing narrative exercise posed to my coaching class by the instructor. As promised, here is part 2 of my healing narrative, which was written about 5 weeks after part 1.

Week 10: My Healing Narrative Part 2

Prompt: Review your notes and online reflections from your first inquiry into your healing narrative. Once completed, sit for 5 minutes, allowing your mind to rest, integrating the material. Using your journal, consider the following questions: What is coming up for me now when I consider healing in my life? How has my understanding of healing changed over this past month? What role do other people play in my healing experiences? Are there actions or ways of being I know, that I can access when I feel I need more healing in my life? Is there an image or a ritual that comes to mind that can become a healing totem for me? Repeat the 10 minute reflection daily as a healing ritual for 3 days. After each session, journal using the above questions or any others you would like to integrate.

It’s interesting that part 2 of the healing narrative came about this week, simply because I’m having such a rough week in regards to my suffering/healing experience. As I said in my part 1 post, I don’t see healing as a linear process that has a set endpoint. There are ups, downs, spirals, flips, and possibly, there always will be. Right now, I find myself in a “down” segment, but thankfully, still with the certainty that another “up” period is somewhere down the road.

Something that is coming up for me now when I consider healing is a need to really address my trauma and explore with someone who is qualified and capable of helping me to process it. There is a lot of vagueness and uncertainty in my trauma experience, and a lot of guilt and self-blame as a result. It’s something that I have touched on with various therapists in the past but it wasn’t dealt with in-depth. I think it will be a big step in my healing process to really dig into it and deal with it as a main focus rather than as a sideline, “Oh, and this happened, too.” Unfortunately it’s difficult to find a professional who is suited to my particular dilemma, as it’s somewhat controversial, and I’ve had at least one counselor in the past just kind of brush it off because of that.

Another step I’m going to take in the near future is to explore a variety of books and resources I’ve obtained that deal with the mind-body connection in relation to trauma. I bought several books earlier this year, with the main intention of increasing my learning in the area of trauma—as this is an area I want to focus on in my future career as a healing arts practitioner—but I’m sure they will also be beneficial to my personal well-being.

I think what has caused such a rough week in relation to this issue, in part, is that a few days ago I emailed my week 5 healing narrative to my mother. I expected her to kind of badger me about my mention of trauma—because it’s something I’ve never discussed with her beyond “I think something may have happened” several years ago—but I didn’t expect to feel so incredibly uncomfortable when I did elaborate for her. I didn’t even say a lot, but I still found it to be very difficult, and I’m still feeling distressed about it even now. In part 1, I noted that sharing my experience with others and being open and transparent is part of the healing process, but in this instance, I’ve had to remind myself that healing can hurt.

I like the idea of having an image, object, or ritual to turn to as a “healing totem.” I don’t have one in mind right now, but it’s something I’ll be thinking about a lot.

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My Healing Narrative, Part 1

I’m currently in week 10 of my term at MUIH, and in my coaching class, we’ve been asked to revisit our healing narratives from week 5 and reflect further on them. I never shared my first healing narrative on this blog, so I decided to take the plunge and share both of them. So that I’m not ending up with a massive post of text that nobody will want to read, I’m dividing it into two separate posts. Today is my initial narrative, and my revisited narrative will be posted in a few days. I’ve included the prompts, in case any readers would like to try this exercise.

Week 5: My Healing Narrative Part 1

Prompt: Choose a time in your life in which you recovered from an illness, trauma, or grief. Take a few minutes to close your eyes and really review the events and experience. Consider the following questions: How did I know I was healing? What were the signs of my healing? What was my experience of healing? Was the experience meaningful for me? In what ways? Journal about these reflections for three days.

On the fourth day, read your journal and answer the following questions: How do I know that I am healing? Are there themes or patterns of my healing experiences? In what ways has healing been meaningful for me? What meaning(s) do I associate with healing?

This assignment was particularly difficult for me because I struggled to identify events that fit the bill. I’m not sure if I would say that my experiences with grief really affected me enough that I needed to “recover” from them. Illness and trauma have affected me significantly, and I have yet to consider myself anywhere near recovered. However, I am able to reflect and recognize some patterns as I continue on my way through the healing process.

In my experience so far, healing is nonlinear and doesn’t have a starting or stopping point. Over many years, I’ve found myself experiencing both brief and extended periods of recovery and relapse. This can be discouraging, but at the same time, I know that I’m healing because there are periods of recovery. These are times when I don’t think about my trauma 10-20 times every day, when I’m able to look at myself in the mirror and smile, when I feel confident in my abilities, and when I don’t have a daily urge to hurt myself.

A recent theme/pattern I’ve identified is that I feel like I’m making progress towards healing and recovery when I am open with others about my struggles. Until around May of last year, very few people knew any kind of depth of what I was dealing with. Since then, I’ve opened up to family members, classmates, friends, colleagues—I even posted about it on my public blog, which can easily be viewed by anyone in my current or future professional circles. Granted, I don’t share everything, but opening up even as much as I have has been a huge weight off of my shoulders, and a big step towards healing.

My healing experience is meaningful not only because of the relief and self-understanding it brings to me; it also allows me to feel comfortable reaching out to others and being transparent in an effort to provide support to those who have similar struggles, as well as to provide education and support to their loved ones.

When I think of healing, I think of acknowledgement, acceptance, and perseverance. I acknowledge the difficulty and the pain. I accept that there may not necessarily be an “end” or a once-and-for-all recovery. And I persevere as I go through the darker periods because I know that soon enough, I’ll reach a period of light again.

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