Personal Growth and Life Transition

Boundaries: Holiday Edition

Accurate, huh? I thought so, too. I think between the usual-holiday-bustle and talking about whether or not to even GATHER for the holidays, the 2020 Holiday Season feels neverending. Add in a nice dose of family dynamics to the decision-making process, and we have ourselves quite a dilemma! 

I want to give us (and yes, us, me included) just a couple practical ways to set some boundaries that enable us to love others well and remain as sane as possible over the next couple weeks. 

Relational boundary work is hard. It’s messy and it takes a lot of energy and effort, two things most of us don’t have right now. So instead of going all-in these last two weeks of December, I encourage us to be realistic in our goals. Here are a few ways we can do that: 

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Boundary Development Interrupted

In the same way a toddler learns to walk by falling (often…and for a long time), boundary development is a process that requires a lot of trying and a lot of falling. If a toddler doesn’t fall until the 5th year of walking, he or she is going to be in for a rude awakening! If she falls on day 1, 2, 47, and 564, and then falls again during year 5, quite a tolerance has been built. So, don’t go trying to set boundaries in all your relationships as soon as you finish reading this post. Believe me, it won’t go well.

Boundary development begins in the womb. Did you know that? Crazy, huh? Before we are born, our mother shares A LOT with us: nutrition, a comfy home, movement, and life-giving blood. Sometimes, she shares some not-so-good things, too. The process has to be like this; until we enter the physical world, we are completely helpless and dependent on another person. Then, during that first hour of life, we’re hit with cold air, discomfort, and voices that are NOT our mother’s. We learn to be dependent on others beside our mothers, which (depending on your story), may be a healthy or painful experience. Regardless of your position, this is development. 

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Boundaries 101

Boundaries. Maybe you’ve heard the term recently; it’s somewhat of a “buzz” word on social media right now. 

  • “I need to set better boundaries.” 
  • “So-and-so doesn’t have any personal boundaries.” 
  • “Maybe if I set a boundary, he’ll stop drinking.” 
  • And then the classic: 

If you haven’t heard of relational boundaries like the examples I just listed, perhaps you are familiar with property boundaries or professional vs. personal boundaries in the workplace. Regardless of the context of the word, the meaning is very similar across uses: a boundary typically refers to the point where something ends and something else begins. In the relational sense, a boundary is where I end and you begin. 

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The Next Right Thing v.2

Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t really enjoy feeling uncomfortable. Some of you may be up for the challenge, but uncomfortable to me feels icky. Icky feels like that physical “shudder” I feel when something just isn’t right. 

You may notice the title of this blog post has “v.2” in it. That’s because writing v.1 was uncomfortable, so I set it down for a week. Here I am in v.2 and yep, you guessed it, I’m still uncomfortable writing it. This time, though, I get it. I need to feel uncomfortable. Way too many people feel uncomfortable every day of their life, and have for 400+ years. I thought COVID-19 quarantine was uncomfortable. My daily routine got obliterated, I couldn’t see my friends, my favorite restaurants closed.

Then, Ahmaud Arbery was murdered. All of a sudden, the discomfort of COVID-19 lost a little luster. Soon after, Breonna Taylor was murdered. Followed by George Floyd. 

V.1 of this blog had a lot of COVID-19 references in it. After some deep self-reflection and others’ input, I realized, the pandemic had become comfortable to me! 

Because the subsequent murders of three Black people was far more uncomfortable to talk about, let alone think about. 

I sat with this new level of discomfort – the awareness that I was doing what I had always done – what we have always done – ignore, avoid, shy away from, claim I “don’t know what to say,” give money anonymously, the list goes on and on. Until one day, I couldn’t avoid myself any longer. No more waiting to know what the “right thing” to do is. “Just do the next, right thing, Lauren.”  

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Spatial Distancing

Hello, I hope you are all fairing well and taking good care of yourselves through this pandemic.

It is an understatement to assert we are living through unprecedented and challenging times. Uncertainty, fear, anxiety and distrust abounds. How can we help in this time of crisis? Some people are in shelter or doing distancing alone and some are with large families that have never had to spend this much time in their homes. Many are working from home and school. There are so many issues going on in so many directions and every day it changes. Uncertainty seems to be the only thing we can count on at this time. It is important to remember even if you are lonely, you are never alone. Help is always a phone call away. We are still available and doing phone and video sessions that are going quite well.

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Reactions to the Pandemic

My wife and I are newly “empty-nesters”. A month ago, two of my kids were away at college and my oldest was in the process of moving from California to the East Coast. I was busy at work and planning a vacation in April.

Everything has changed: colleges are closed, CDC guidelines are in place, and stay-at-home orders issued. My three children returned home to shelter with us as their schools and jobs ended or switched to online. We have all had to adjust to living together again (and not just for a week over spring break!).

It has been good to be with my family. In a time when going out becomes a risk/benefit analysis and a series of trade-offs, having my family home helps me feel safer and better able to be present in the world.

I had been watching the news and following the coronavirus spread for several months but only as a spectator. I was taking precautions, washing my hands a lot, and social distancing but did not really understand what was happening. It came home for me when I learned of the death of a Boone County resident. The first death from Covid-19 in Missouri.

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Friday During a Pandemic

We made it to Friday — Friday during a pandemic. Feels a little more like this week was a week of Mondays on repeat. Nevertheless, here we are. 

I have had the words for this blog post in my head for a little over a week now, but to be honest, I’ve spent a lot of the past few weeks feeling paralyzed. Frozen. Stuck in one of those whirlpools that keeps you moving but you don’t even go anywhere. Maybe you can relate. 

When COVID-19 made its way to my area, so did a whole host of feelings. And you know my opinion about feelings … the more conflicting, the better 😉  Feeling conflicting emotions = reality. And there’s nothing that’ll bring us back to reality like an international pandemic. 

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Debunking the Myth: Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

About a month ago, I polled many of you and asked if you’d rather learn more about Bipolar Disorder or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). I was really surprised to learn there was almost an exact tie. There was approximately one more person curious about OCD than Bipolar, so I sure hope that lucky person is reading this post!

Just to review, you’re reading a post in my current blog series called Debunking the Myth: Commonly Misused Mental Health Words. Click the following links to read previous posts on panic attack and trauma

OCD: probably one of the most thrown-around acronyms, at least in the circles in which I find myself. The way I hear the term used often sounds like, “She’s so OCD” or “I’m just OCD like that.” Typically, the user of the phrase is referring to engaging in repetitive behavior or feeling overly busy or frantic or trying to verbally make sense of feeling internal anxiety. To their (or your or my) credit, the description is not far from the actual definition of OCD. But, just like the other terms we’ve debunked, it will serve us well to learn the science behind Obsessive Compulsive Disorder in order to more fully accept each other and show kindness to those around us. My hope with this series is to educate in order to lessen stigma – and mental health is so easy to stigmatize. 

What we think OCD is. Similar to above, we tend to think OCD describes a person who folds each article of clothing in the exact same way. Or maybe you have to make sure the front door is locked at least three times before going to bed. Since we just said goodbye to the holiday season, “making the list and checking it twice” may have meant checking it excessively to make sure everything was in order by December 25th. In my mind, a person with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder may look a little frazzled on the outside or may talk quickly or seem overly nervous in social situations. I share this stereotype I’m guilty of in order to let you in on a secret: we all do it. Our society loves to put us in boxes with labels in order to try and understand and make room for us. And like we’ve talked about, this is sometimes comforting for the person asking for help. But, when we call someone by their label, like, “He is so OCD,” we reduce that person to a set of characteristics that are mostly likely behaviors, not human identity.

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Debunking the Myth: Trauma – What it is and what it is not

“Trauma” is one of those buzz words these days. I remember about ten years ago, some of the only times I heard the word was on the television show ER. You remember, too? 

Does trauma only happen in a hospital emergency room? 

What we think it is. Doctors and nurses rush around, in and out of triage rooms separated by swinging sheets, beeping noises fill the background, and someone is usually crying. ER trauma, especially in real life, is just that – traumatic.  

What is NOT trauma is me saying to my kids, “Get off that tree branch!  You’re going to give me PTSD!” Or, “My hair is such a disaster, it’s traumatizing.” 

Similar to my last post about panic attacks, these mental health buzzwords are complicated. They rarely mean what we think they mean and they are rarely used as intended. Most of the time, we use “trauma” and “PTSD” interchangeably, when in fact, they are different from each other. Sure, there are crossover components, and yes, someone who has the diagnosed condition of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder has experienced a trauma (or multiple). But for our purposes of learning in order to understand, validate, and accept each other more fully, “trauma” does not just mean “scared” and some people suffer from debilitating PTSD on a daily basis. 

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Debunking the Myth: Panic Attack

I know I’ve heard it and I know I’ve said it: “Oh my goodness, I’m so stressed out, I’m going to have a panic attack.” Or, to one of my kids, “Get down from that ladder!  You’re going to give me a panic attack!” 

Hey, I’m just going to be honest.  Until a few years ago, I was mostly unaware of the effect my mental-illness-phrase-ignorance had on the people around me, and even more consequently, on myself.  As time ticks on, I learn a little more each day and realize again –  words matter.  The way I use words matters. The way we – as a society – use words matters – especially in the field of mental health counseling.

Some people appreciate a “label” as it helps them understand what’s going on behind the scenes mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  Others run as far away from a label as they can; they may feel isolated and alone, like no one else in the world knows or understands their struggle.  We all just want to fit in with the rest of the world, to be included, to be known and loved for who we are, not just for what we do. Labels either help us toward that desire or harm us in the process, depending on each individual’s experiences.

In this blog series, my aim is to debunk some commonly misused terms as they pertain to mental health and awareness.  In the process, I’m reminding myself of the importance of seeing the people around me, really seeing them. Today, let’s learn about the truth behind the term panic attack.

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