I’m friends with the monster that’s under my bed
Get along with the voices inside of my head
You’re trying to save me, stop holding your breath
And you think I’m crazy, yeah, you think I’m crazy Well, that’s nothing
Well, that’s nothing”
— Eminem, Rihanna: The Monster

Flashback……September 2009

A time in my life when I thrived was when I taught a master’s level course on Psychotherapy for Individuals. I had agreed to teach this course as a favor to a friend who unexpectedly moved out of state.  It was my first foray into formal teaching (although I had run groups and in-house seminars on professional ethics and stress reduction for numerous years.)  I had a one-week timeframe to prepare before the course began. The course ran for 3 hours on Tuesday evenings. Evenings are not my optimum time of day. I am one of those annoying early-birds that bound out of bed ready to rock and roll (it annoys the heck out of my husbandJ).  It was about an hours drive for me to get to the university AFTER I had completed a full day of groups and individual therapy and I had to drive on Michigan winter roads and in the dark on my way home (two of my least favorite things.)  There we a lot of valid excuses for me NOT to thrive.

A colleague asked me if I felt intimidated about teaching these young, fresh students.  My externally verbalized response was “No, I just really need to stay one week ahead of them.”  My internal honest, not verbalized response was  “Hell YES, terrified!!!”  I decided my best approach was to speak from my strengths and passion, which at that time were Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Dialectic Behavioral Therapy, and Motivational Interviewing along with a strong emphasis on therapist life balance/ self-care. I also made a choice to incorporate my group therapy skills as a structure for running the class.  I had a loose syllabus (which out of personal survival adhered to the 80/20 rule) along with a supplemental reading list so the students could fill in the blanks on the many topics outside my scope of practice.   The class was highly interactive.  I incorporated an evocative question of the day and a “what went well last week” segment to begin every class, so the students could get to know one another.  We always ended with a take-away, something from that evening’s class that each student felt they could incorporate into their own lives.

Interesting, I over-prepared for this course and then spoke authentically and from the heart.  I listened, engaged, acknowledged and validated the students and their views. I told stories of my experiences in the trenches.  We laughed a lot in class.  I was energized by the interactions and discussions. Two specific classes stand out for me.  The first we were talking through the behavioral and cognitive therapies.  The class asked me if I would play the therapist in a demonstration session (GULP.) I was completely in flow during the crazy, difficult real-play (they later divulged it was taken from an episode of Maury PovichJ). The students gave me a standing ovation.

The second class involved me bring two of my favorite clients to class to speak about their experiences in therapy.  The clients were nervous and honest in sharing their experiences; they opened up and allowed themselves to be vulnerable.  I had never seen either of them so strong.  They each made a decision after the experience in my classroom to go to college and both are still taking courses and thriving.

Flash forward 51 years. I am 105 and have an inner contentment, love, wonder and enormous gratitude over the rocky path my life has taken.

My husband and I leave a legacy of loving each other well.  We live in a simple home we thoughtfully designed, filled with our glorious, happy, quirky art and furnished only with things we love (including our beloved hifi system, sweet doggies and crazy cat.). We occasionally travel, but have learned the pleasure of savoring the journey. We spend most of our time at home looking out at the lake, reminiscing about the many places we were fortunate enough to visit.  We still laugh, learn and find meaning and purpose in our lives. We continue to skillfully drive fast cars (I still grin like an idiot when Yoram drives!)  Occasionally, we resurrect the idea of renting a Lamborghini and driving pedal to the metal into a brick wall.

Kindness, curiosity and connection are my guiding stars. I am pleased to continue to see a few therapy clients to offer guidance along with helping those new to the field feel more confident and balanced in their professional and home time.  My beloved business, “a balanced life, LLC” continues to generate an income that allows us to have and do enough (which is considerably less than in our earlier years.) I continue to ponder my latest and greatest idea to make the business more cutting edge, more interesting, more diverse.  I am pleased that I will be able to turn this business over to capable hands when I am gone.  It is delightful that I was able to publish my books, one on the strengths and courage of my clients at CMH and the pathology of the administrative staff and the other on living a healthy work-life balance. I am so grateful for Yoram and my friends, that encouraged me to pursue this dream and proud of myself for taking the time, energy and persistence to follow through. Life is good, life is simple, Life is happy.  When I dance, my joints creak, my knees pop and my hips don’t wiggle the way they once did, but I continue to move….. usually,  forwardJ

Present day, May 4, 2014

In the past year I have pulled on my toughest jeans (even better than the big girl panties) and saddled up despite the many fears I consistently shoo away like flies on my horse.  I started and filled my therapy practice in 3 months, rolled out the Kindness Project and is starting a group “Creating Happiness” based on the principles of Positive Psychology.  I have begun to dance in my office in the afternoons and have had several clients join me. I put in a wonderful garden from scratch and continue to host neighborhood events.  I am writing on a weekly basis and reading, along with applying what I learn.  It has been an awesome year.

My biggest obstacles are the thoughts in my mind that try to convince me I “shouldn’t, can’t”.  These thoughts that tell me to hold back, they riddle me with doubt when I move ahead.  Fortunately, I am usually wise to their limiting game. I view them like the recent Eminem song, in which he raps “the monsters beside my bed, the voices in my head.” If Eminem can learn to make friends with the monster, I certainly can acknowledge that although I have thoughts I am not my thoughts. I know that my mind frequently tells me a load of crap. I have a choice to frantically hold on for dear life (or death) and believe these thoughts or acknowledge them for what they are, just thoughts (not facts, not truths, not actions.) I can hold these thoughts lightly AND continue to move in a direction I value, despite the monkey chatter in my head.  This does not get in my way as much as the obstacle below.

The second obstacle is the acknowledgement that I have struggled with generalized anxiety disorder for as long as I can remember.  I do not medicate for this condition. It is the “more, faster, better” unhealthy mantra that fucks with my enjoyment of right now. My anxiety always lurks in the background. Initially I feel unsettled, with a sense of urgency that far outweighs the reality of my situation.  My chest tightens, I set unrealistic expectations, and I become overwhelmed when I can’t get everything accomplished.  It negatively impacts my mood and at my worst I go into irritable mode or shut down for 24 hours.  I have lived, and at times thrived, despite this condition.  The best way for me to push through these times is to intentionally slow down.  I start with the three deep breaths.  I ask myself “Is this way of thinking/ being serving me well?  Is it moving me in the direction I want to go?  I then consciously focus in on what I am doing at that the moment.  I intentionally meter my speech and slow my speed of walking, driving, thinking.  If all else fails, I physically engage in doing something that distracts my mind and body.  Playing with my dogs, cooking, gardening and of course dancing help me become mindful of the present.  Interestingly, I do not experience anxiety when I am with my clients or running groups. I know this condition will never be completely gone from my life.  It has been both a blessing and a struggle.  It moves me forward, and at times stops me in my tracks.  It may affect my emotions AND I am typically able to take action important both, to and for me, despite its strong influence.