Singing about connections

fern

I spent the summers of 1977-1980 at an all girls overnight camp in Maine.  There were about 130 girls there each summer all donned in green shorts and white shirts.  The counselors, who were as much a part of the community as the girls, wore blue shorts and white shirts.  The girls ranged from ages seven-eight to fifteen-sixteen, or at camp you would say Bunk 12 (the youngest)  to Senior D (the oldest).

We sang.  I really mean it, we sang ALL.OF.THE.TIME.  Anyone can tell you there is a song for getting up in the morning, going to bed at night and everything in between including every meal, picking up paper, perfect posture, if it rains (but you can’t say the r word) and absolutely everything you can think of.  Not to mention, as the end of the summer approaches, an entirely new set of songs gets put into the  mix about not wanting to go home and/or never wanting to leave camp.

There are also all green songs, all white songs, green and white songs, tons of birthday songs, and, of course, whenever anyone that is not part of the camp community enters the dining room, why, there is a song greeting them, as well.

And, if you couldn’t guess it, there were song leaders. Being a song leader was probably the most coveted role at camp, other than being a team captain (yes, Green or  White teams).  The song leaders were chosen at the beginning of the summer and led throughout the summer, but who am I kidding, once a song leader always a song leader.

The four song leaders per summer would stand up on chairs in the middle of the dining room during every meal.  Two would face one direction and two would face the other so that every camper could see a song leader.  They would choose the songs from their perch and then do a little pitch before starting the song.  They would then lead us in song by keeping the beat to the song via complicated hand  motions that are forever part of your DNA (for the record, I just motioned them at my desk).

The younger girls would mimic the hand motions from their seats at the dining tables while the song leaders led the entire camp in song.  It was spirited and loud, but there were also moments that were more serene and peaceful.  We sang at meals, at sports events, at campfires, on buses, on hikes, you name it, we sang.

Why all this talk about song?

Our camp songs have been quieted.  A bright, energetic and talented song leader has just lost her battle with cancer.  She was more than a song leader, she was a camper, a Green team captain, a counselor and a musician.  She was a  a daughter, a sister, a friend, a wife and a mom.  She was a connector; she  kept everyone in touch and in the loop while also caring for all.

I went to her funeral today. The service was beautiful.  Her rabbi, friend, brother and husband all spoke and filled in the pieces of her that were not-camp.  Her husband did mention in his eulogy that for her “all roads really did lead to camp.”

After the service the camp people gathered.  There were a few people that I have been in touch with through Facebook over the years that I knew would be present.   There were also faces that I had not seen in thirty-five years;  once the name was said, I immediately placed them back into their green shorts and white shirts.

The age range spanned probably twenty years.  There were the “big kids” from when I was a camper, and then the “little kids” to whom I was a “big kid”.  And mind you, we are all now ranging from our forty’s to sixty’s or older, many of whom have sent their daughters to the camp.

It was a surreal experience. Even if there was someone there today that had not been at camp during my tenure, they  were either in my sister’s bunk or knew my best friend’s sister.  Our camp was small enough that everyone really knew everyone.

As we cried and grieved over the loss of our friend, we reconnected, laughed, shared stories and cried and grieved some more.

I’ve written about camp from the perspective of a parent and/or a therapist .   I am writing about our kids and their experiences and how important their time at camp is for so many reasons.  I didn’t realize how really important it was until today when my camp experience resurfaced as did the connections and relationships formed decades ago.

We will miss our friend so much. She was someone you were lucky to have known.  She taught me more about relationships and kindness than I had realized. Her husband wrote this many times in their Caring Bridge site: call your people, let them know they are important, life is too unpredictable to have it any other way.

 

 


Yoga-works

meditation

I have been spending a lot of time at my beloved Beloved Yoga studio recently.  A true enticer for me of late has been the warm toasty yoga room on these very cold mornings.  I have been doing yoga on and off for a decade; this spring I started up again and I always wonder “why would I ever stop?”

The teachers are fabulous; they are so well educated and proficient at their skill.  I have learned so much about the body, the mind, my own strength and potential.  I love realizing how I struggled with a certain pose back in the summer that comes so easily to me now and seeing how my endurance has really improved from these months of practicing yoga.

The typical class is ninety minutes.  The teachers often give a message in the beginning of class about balance, being in the present or any number of possibilities essential to both being on the yoga mat and living our daily lives.  We then warm up, progress into a pretty intense flow workout where I love to really get my sweat on. The class  then cools  down a bit where we do a variety of still poses and balances. At the end we settle in to shavasana  where we lie still for about five minutes and relax.

This ‘relax’ thing is harder than one might think.  When they say relax, they really mean relax; not plan your grocery list, itemize your work to-do tasks or think about calling your mother-in-law.  One of my favorite teachers encouraged me to try to feel my heart beat while in this pose.   When I am struggling to still my mind, I often focus on his suggestion and am able to slow down and focus on, well, just nothing, which is the intended goal.

As I get in my car to drive home, I always feel really great.  Each muscle has had a chance to be stretched or worked so my whole body feels wrung out.   And, my mind is always  usually perfectly still and calm as well (last week during shavasana, I did have a panic moment when I remembered that my quarterly taxes were due, but otherwise, I tend to achieve a very calm state).

One day the week  before Christmas I had gone to one of my favorite  morning classes before a client.  I rushed home, showered and got to the office while still maintaining my post-yoga calm.

My client arrived in the throes of the pre-Christmas frenzy.  There was talk of wrapping and shopping and cooking and extended family.  She was feeling anxious and stirred up and I listened.  I was still and slow, I responded calmly and from a very grounded spot.  As the session progressed, my client began to slow down.  She became more calm and peaceful;  her speaking slowed and her anxiety decreased.

At the end she said “and this is why I scheduled a pre-Christmas Laurie appointment” (she may have even blurted out “you are a genius” at one point)(to which I just laughed and thanked the yoga teacher).

After the session, us both feeling very peaceful, I shared my “genius” with her.

I told her about my yoga class and my enhanced calm during this particular therapy  session.  I have known her for years; her sessions are generally on a different day when yoga is not part of my morning.  We were both aware and impressed with how the yoga effected not just my state of being, but also my therapy presence and ultimately her state of being.

I have been very conscious of this in my subsequent sessions with all of my clients.  I am really aware of channeling this inner yoga calm into the therapy room.   What an amazing tool and quite the testament to mindfulness and the calm that is yoga; it does work!


Off they go…..again

college

For years and years kids have been going off to college.  Other than when I did it in the Dark Ages, I hadn’t paid  much attention to this annual send-off.  Two years ago several of my closest friends were packing up their oldest kids for college.  I sat on the sidelines taking notes and preparing for our turn.  Last year we successfully sent Kid #1 off for his freshman year.  I thought it would be easier this year, but on Saturday as he sprinted  headed back to school I felt sad and heavy and was/am really missing that kid (despite his shenanigans).

It is weird how my home life so often mimics my work life.  On Monday a wonderful client literally went from his last therapy session back to his university.  On Tuesday, a lovely young woman with whom I have been working since December came for her final session before heading off for her freshman year.  As their therapist I bid them off with congratulations for doing such great work in therapy and thrilled for what lay in store for their coming year.  As a mom, I felt that pang, thinking about their moms and knowing the hole that they leave behind.

With both of these clients (and always when a client is terminating therapy) I review what they will take with them in their ‘metaphorical’ tool box.  We discuss what issues have been discussed, how they have been resolved and what to do if the struggles were to return.  I told each of these kids that if they feel a “ripple” of an issue that they can contact me.  I told them that they don’t have to ‘wait it out’ or let it get too big.  In the same breath, I reassured them that it is completely normal to  have a “bad day” or some “stress”.  All of us humans have bad days  followed, hopefully, by better ones.  Mixed messages? Perhaps.  But, I want them to have permission to both sit with a  bad day, but not become overwhelmed if the bad day turns into old fears or anxieties.

I remember when touring colleges with Kid #1  (much to his dismay),  I had several questions when the  perky tour leaders pointed out the counseling center.  I am so pleased that colleges are supportive of their students’ mental health.   Sometimes I will do Skype therapy sessions with a client that has gone to college and other times they will contact a local therapist in the area or go through the college counseling center.  It depends on the situation and the specific client; but I am always in contact with the treating therapist to assure that these kids are getting their needs met.

To the new freshman class and their parents, I wish you a great year.  To all those returning students and their families, same to you.  Kids – have fun, BE SAFE and don’t forget to call home.


The pain AND the ache

source

source

Who remembers when I was going to physical therapy?  My wonderful physical therapist, Andre Heletsi, healed my pains and tingles like a champ.

Andre has now opened Missing Link Physical Therapy in Loudon County.  It is a unique  physical therapy practice that addresses not only traditional physical therapy needs, but also those of athletes and dancers.  The team includes physical therapists, personal trainers, massage therapists and a performing arts specialist.    Their philosophy is to provide an in-depth assessment and treatment of their patients.  Missing Link is a fee-for-service practice so that each patient receives more personal time and attention with their therapist than at an insurance based clinic.  Andre’s vision is to treat the whole patient – mind, body and soul.

That is where I come in.  Andre has invited me to help with the mental health piece.  He and I have talked at length about the mind-body connection and how intertwined they are.  He is viscerally aware when his patients’ physical ailments go beyond the body.  Often trauma and stress can contribute to a chronic pain issue or to prolonged recovery from surgery or an injury.

My daughter was asking how my work and his were connected.  I explained to her that “he can take away their pain” and she finished my sentence beautifully with “but not all of their ache.”

I am currently creating a workshop for Mind Link Physical Therapy; I plan to facilitate a discussion on the tools we can all implement to decrease both our pain and our ache.  The date has yet to be decided (which is fine since the workshop is still in its early stages)(get to work, Laurie!), but it will be a free event at the beautiful Mind Link Physical Therapy facility.

I promise to keep you posted.


Another rant

Note to self: LET IT GO

Note to self: LET IT GO

Allow me a rant, I’m good at it, I’ve done it before, and well, it just needs to come out so I can it get out of my head space.

This winter it was cold, really cold.  Our kids missed some school because it was cold. Then it snowed and iced and once again, school was cancelled, we had the joy of sleeping in, shoveling driveways and drinking hot cocoa.

Somewhere between then and now Fairfax County Schools decided to extend the school year due to the amount of school days missed.  I heard the hemming and hawing and went about my business because June felt like it was far away.  It is now June and Fairfax County Schools are not officially over until tomorrow;  tomorrow as in they attend school for about 6 minutes, I guess just to call it a “school day” for the books.

I don’t know many students that are attending this week.  Mine are home, their friends are home and many of the neighbors are home.  The middle school is having field day today;  my daughter’s friend just texted her a picture of them watching ‘Frozen’ in class.  I don’t feel badly about her missing it, she’s seen the movie a million times.

A dear friend of mine has a beach house rented for this week.  They booked it eons ago before the Winter of 2014 pounced on Northern Virginia.  My friend’s husband is a teacher.  Do you see where this is going?  My friend drove herself and her two kids to the beach house without her husband so that he could stay behind and press the play button on the ‘Frozen’ DVD for his high school students.  He will join them on Wednesday after the school day where the kids go to each class for 15 minutes to say their good-byes and sign yearbooks.

I understand the need for education.  I am all for education and learning.  NO ONE IS LEARNING THIS WEEK. They are biding time to say they met their school requirements.  And, hard working teachers who did teach and educate throughout the year are missing family vacations etc. because of these added days where no one is teaching.

I don’t get it – if you do, please fill me in.

 

 


My Inside vs. Your Outside

reel

A client’s mom recently asked me what I see as the biggest challenge for teens.  I thought about all  of the work I have done with so many different teens and answered based on what is most commonly discussed in my sessions.  As teens walk through the hallways of their high schools they encounter hundreds of peers at each class passing  and scrutinize the clothes, hair and bodies of their classmates.  These teens see what appears to be  ‘put together’ kids who look happy, confident and surrounded by friends and compare this image to their own inner struggles of anxiety, depression and low self-worth.

I remind my clients time and time again that they are comparing what they feel on the inside to what they see on others’ outsides.  A teen who is feeling insecure and shy sees a bubbly group of kids walk by and assumes that the bubbly girls are happy and ‘perfect’.  What the insecure teen doesn’t know  is that  Ms. Bubbly’s parents may be getting divorced, she may be failing in school or she may have an eating disorder.  Another piece of this puzzle is that as low as the insecure teen may feel, Ms. Bubbly might look at her and think that she has it all together and is stress free.

One never knows what is going on inside of another person  or what happens behind the closed doors of what appears to be the perfect home. Too often we assume based on what we perceive to be someone’s happiness, and so many times we have assumed wrong.

I have clients tell me that they work really hard to look “happy” at school so that people won’t know that they are suffering.  I ask if they share their sadness or problems with their friends and most of the time they say that they don’t; they don’t want people to know, they don’t want to burden their friends or it is just easier to not discuss their pain.  I’m grateful that these kids are able to open up to me (or rather break the silence after gentle therapeutic coercion; they rarely want to talk to me either).  I do wish they had others with whom they felt safe about disclosing their personal challenges.

smiley face

I have yet to meet the ‘perfect’ person.  I share this with my clients regularly and the notion that everyone has challenges and bad days.  It is true that some suffer more than others, but there is no one that is issue- free.  Often I use the word “human” when trying to impress upon my clients that no one is perfect.  We are all human; we hurt, we laugh, we grieve and we celebrate.

I must say, we grown-ups often fall into the same patterns of comparing our insides with others’ outsides. That one has a nice car, great kids or perfect vacations; not so true.  Just like with the teens, we adults are not always aware of the struggles that our peers endure. If you or your teen falls into the “compare and despair” habit, try to remember that things aren’t always as they appear.


Community College: A great choice for some

Community College-400x400

 

Disclaimer: Each of my client cases are fictional. They are compilations of hundreds of client situations I have encountered throughout my career. This is to protect the confidentiality of my clients. Anything that may resemble a real person or family is simply a coincidence.

 

Last night was the Spring Sports Awards Banquet at my son’s school.  ‘Banquet’ in the sense that the teens dressed nicely and ate California Tortilla in the cafeteria.  The coaches spoke and presented awards, the teens were polite and enthusiastic and it was a nice event to celebrate these athletes.

After the initial dinner and awards, each team had their own presentation.  At the track break-out meeting, the coaches got more personal, talked about the season and highlighted several of the most improved and best sportsmanship award winners.

All of the seniors were asked to stand in the front of the room, introduce themselves, announce in which track event they competed  and share where they would be going to school next year.  There were at least fifteen kids;  handsome, fit, young and proud standing before us.  They spoke from the left side of the room towards the right: Virginia Tech, Virginia Tech, James Madison, Virginia Tech, William and Mary and it proceeded.  I smiled when one boy said North Carolina noting that someone was leaving the state.  Then one boy shyly said “unlike the rest, NOVA for two years and then Virginia Tech”. The line went on to Virginia Tech, UVA and Georgetown.

My heart sunk.  I don’t think anyone else noticed the discomfort emanating from this young man, but I couldn’t let it go.   He seemed ashamed of his choice and intimidated by all of the four year schools that his teammates were attending.

The pressure that these kids experience day in and day out can be overwhelming; from appearances to finances to grades, peer groups and college.  There seems to always be an opportunity for shame and comparison as a teen (and adult as well).

As I mentioned in this blog post , I have worked with many students attending Northern Virginia Community College.  Some students began at NOVA directly after high school and some started at another school and for various reasons decided that NOVA was a better fit for them.

It has been a great learning opportunity for me to work with these clients that are attending NOVA.  I’ve learned a lot about the NOVA system, its academics and its culture.   One client who had struggled at several other universities grabbed an opportunity at NOVA and soared.   He took his classes seriously and put a great deal of time into his studies.  He was thrilled when he found that he was getting all A’s and gained an entirely new outlook on academics and his own power to have success.

One of my clients struggles with learning challenges.  This client has embraced his studies at NOVA and also had success.  He took the placement exams before matriculating which placed him in the proper classes for his specific abilities.  He has enjoyed his classes and been able to receive the help that he needs with his specific challenges.

Another one of my clients always felt “dumb” at his private high school. He spent a semester at a larger university and decided that it was not the right fit for  him. Since being at NOVA, this client has become a new student; he feels comfortable in his classes, has felt encouraged to raise his hand and participate regularly.  He likes the fact that the pressure is less and it is a more relaxed atmosphere.

A few years ago, I was having a discussion with two friends.  One of them made a derogatory comment about someone going to NOVA.  I stopped her and requested that she re-evaluate her comment.  After working with all of these kids, some of who do have shame about attending NOVA, I have a better appreciation for their journey.  I want to promote the upside to community college; it can be right for so many.  With the price of college, many kids have to attend NOVA for economic reasons solely. And, as I have stated, sometimes it is just a better fit for some students.

I am really glad that my clients have taught me about positive aspects of community college and I hope to help shape others who have yet to see the benefits.

As much as the therapist in me wanted to approach the boy last night and tell him “it’s going to be okay”, the mother in me knew that both he, and my son, would have been mortified had I done something so outrageous (and my poor son has been witness to many an outrageous measure performed by this mother of his).  I do hope that someone tells that young man that it is okay and he is going to get exactly what he needs as he continues on his own personal academic path.