Don’t Push Through It!

Bouncing back ain’t what it used to be

Has it been taking you longer to recover lately, from…literally everything? In the past few years, a lot more of us have used up our bandwidth, yet we expect to be able to “push through” in the same way we used to. It may be that the pushing through itself was always bad for us, but we didn’t feel the effects until we used up everything we had. We hear a lot about resilience, but the fact is, we live in a culture that glorifies crunch and encourages pushing through to the detriment of physical and mental health, and it’s killing us. While there are certainly ways to increase resilience, we are finite. There are already enough external things killing us; we need to stop the self-destruction and learn to treat ourselves sustainably.

What does “pushing through” mean?

“Pushing through” is forcing yourself to function past your physical or emotional limits, past capacity: Staying up all night to finish a task. Working week after week without a day off until you feel numb. Exercising until you throw up. Prioritizing others’ feelings and keeping silent when your own heart is breaking. Ignoring hunger, thirst, or the need to go to the bathroom for just another hour and then another hour. Staying in an intolerable situation and telling yourself you “should” just be able to tolerate it. Often needing caffeine, aspirin, or alcohol to tolerate the situation. Do any of those sound familiar?

Consequences of pushing through

Here’s the thing. Any time you push through your limits–physical or emotional–you are borrowing from your future self. You are eating your seed corn. You are going in debt to your own physical and mental health. You are spending resources you don’t have! The discomfort is there for a reason. It tells you when you have reached your limit, when to stop spending yourself, when you are tapped out and used up. The discomfort is the sign to stop.

When people say “listen to your body,” what that means is if it hurts, stop doing it. If you are tired, rest. If you are sad, cry. If you are hungry, eat. This sounds simplistic, but many of us have been conditioned since childhood to ignore or “push through” our limits. We may have a high tolerance for physical and emotional discomfort. Well, guess what? That’s often harmful. It may be lifesaving in a situation of desperate crisis, but it’s not sustainable. You can tolerate the situations causing the discomfort for the short term, but you are spending yourself to do so. You are spending your future self for today’s emergency. Burning out is the direct result of pushing through too many times. It means the future self you spent is today’s self.

Why do we overspend ourselves?

Many of us have been taught that we are expendable, and that discomfort is always something to be ignored as we push through it to a goal. We learn that spending ourselves recklessly is okay or even admirable as long as it’s in service of a worthy goal. Sometimes it’s a goal we want to reach, but often it’s a goal others have set for us, a social expectation, a “should.”

You may be fighting to not feel your reactions to a given situation, when what really needs to happen is for you to leave or change the situation. The reactions you’re experiencing are an important indicator of how the situation is affecting you, rather than a distraction to be ignored or suppressed.

Learning to respect your own limits

Before you can set limits, you need to know what your limits are. When you push through, what is it you are pushing through? Is it exhaustion? Fatigue is a sign you need to rest. Pain? Pain is a sign that something may be injuring you. Is it fear? Fear is a sign that something may hurt you. Is it resentment? Resentment is a sign that you are giving more than you can afford to give. These are important indicators of how you are being affected.

What if you don’t know your limits? In particular, survivors of abuse or neglect are vulnerable to not having well-developed boundaries, that is: knowing your limits. That’s because in an important part of your development, you were taught that how you felt about things was not important. You were not allowed to develop boundaries or learn your limits, so you developed a high tolerance for discomfort. Too high, in fact! As a result, what often happens is you don’t realize that your limits have been reached until they are surpassed, and then you are utterly overwhelmed.

Therefore, your task in adulthood is to lower your tolerance for discomfort. We want you to learn to stop what you’re doing before the discomfort gets to the point of overwhelm, by reducing your threshold of tolerance for discomfort. Notice which feelings indicate things are too much for you. (Exhaustion? Pain? Fear? Resentment?) The goal is to start noticing and paying actual attention to discomforts when they are still small, taking them seriously while they are still small. Initially this will feel selfish or silly or spoiled. You will feel guilty! But in fact it is solid progress.

Does this mean we should strive to never feel discomfort? Of course not. Discomfort is an integral part of being human, part of progressing, part of growing and living with others. But we can learn to discern between the discomfort of healthy growth, and discomfort that is an indicator that we aren’t taking care of ourselves or are actively being harmed. There is no need to valorize discomfort for the sake of discomfort.

Is it ever okay to push through?

There are exceptions where it’s okay to intentionally, consciously push your limits or overspend yourself. Maybe you’re doing physical therapy to recover from a surgery and the exercises hurt. This is for a very specific recovery goal and it’s under the supervision of an expert; the point is not to just do something very hard that hurts, it’s to heal. Or maybe you have a phobia and you know a particular fear is irrational and you want to overcome it. But again, this is a very specific exception and you can engage carefully knowing that you’re actually safe; the point is not to just ignore fear.

Maybe you intentionally incur short-term temporary debts to your future self: you occasionally stay up to finish a paper or meet a work deadline, you’re training for a special sports event that you enjoy, you’re taking care of a loved one who is ill. In those cases you support your well-being, you plan how to “pay it back” to yourself immediately by taking a few days to catch up on sleep, do stretches, feed yourself well, socialize, do your journaling, relax. Then you’ve repaid yourself and repaired your body and emotions. And in each case, these are goals that you have chosen because you value them yourself.

But all too often, what we’re doing is not one of these exceptions. Instead, we’re relying on emergency spending as a way of life. We are pushing through important warnings to stop!

Spend yourself less and pay yourself back more

Learn your limits. What tires you out? What hurts physically? What interactions leave you emotionally derailed or spent? There was a point where the discomfort began–did you notice it then, or not until it became overwhelming?

Choose your goals. Spend yourself intentionally on the things that really matter to you, instead of habitually overspending yourself on things that don’t help you survive or make you happy.

Respect your limits. Stop doing the things that always lead to those feelings! Either stop doing them entirely, or stop doing them while the discomfort is still mild. Stop when you only feel a little tired, not when you’re already exhausted. Or stop when you’re just a little sore, not when you can’t stand because you overworked your muscles. Or end a phone conversation when you’re only a little antsy, instead of staying on the line until you feel resentful.

Pay yourself back. This sounds so simple, yet it’s not easy. Rest, eat, comfort and entertain yourself after spending yourself. Restore yourself! You cannot simply jump back into routine without restoring whatever you have overspent, or you’ll be running at a deficit. Do not allow a self-care deficit to become chronic–that leads to illness.

What if I just can’t

In some cases, there are times we know we are beyond capacity, but we are running ourselves ragged just to make ends meet or keep our lives holding together. This unfortunately and unfairly contributes to illness and even shorter lifespan for those in marginalized groups: racialized groups, those who are poor, and disabled people, for example.

In that situation, I encourage you to let go of tasks that are not an absolute necessity. Do what you must and do what you want, but let go of doing what you “should.” By this I mean, prioritize the tasks that will get your bills paid, and prioritize the things that will help you stay functioning (make you happy or relax you). However, let go of things you’re doing because it’s a “should” instead of a need or a want. De-prioritize things that you’re mainly doing because of the judgments, habits, or opinions of others.

You are a finite resource

A big part of increasing resilience is learning what our limits are and respecting them, instead of pushing through them. Learn to stop when discomfort is small, not after it becomes overwhelming. Some goals may be worth temporarily overspending ourselves, but we must choose those goals carefully and with intention, and then make sure to pay ourselves back. Do not let a deficit become chronic: you are borrowing from your future self. Stop pushing through the warnings. You are a finite resource. You are irreplaceable.

Become sustainable. ❤️

We offer remote therapy sessions anywhere within Pennsylvania. Most people qualify for a sliding-scale discount; use the calculator to instantly see what your fee would be. Email IntersectionalLife@gmail.com to schedule a session.

Recognize Depression by the Lies it Tells

I wonder if you’ve noticed some negative thoughts about yourself lately. These might be something like:

“Nobody really likes me.”

“I’m not good at anything.”

“I’m not loveable.”

“Nothing I do works.”

“I have nothing to look forward to.”

If these sound familiar, there’s a good chance you’re experiencing some depression. Depression often generates these kind of negative, judgmental thoughts. There are a couple of important things to remember about depressive thoughts.

  1. Thoughts are not facts! We can have thoughts that are true or false. In fact, thoughts generated by depression are often false (or greatly exaggerated). Just because a thought pops into your head does not make it true. Depression is a really good liar! So when you recognize that you’re having a bout of depressive thoughts, remember not to buy into the content.

  2. Depressive thoughts are a useful indicator! When you learn to recognize that these kind of thoughts are generated by depression, it lets you know that you’re experiencing a bout of depression. That will allow you to take care of yourself properly so you can get through the depression, instead of making it worse by ignoring it.

This may sound simplistic, but many times we do not recognize we’re experiencing a depressive episode until it’s been going on for a while. And during that time, we may be buying into the content of depressive thoughts, berating ourselves for not functioning normally, self-medicating or making other bad choices in an effort to cope, wondering why we’re exhausted or down, and generally making the depression worse. This happens surprisingly often, even for people who have known for years that they are susceptible to depression.

So the key is: notice your depressive thoughts. And instead of simply believing them (buying into the content) and spiraling, mentally “step back” from the thoughts. Notice how you’ve been feeling overall. Take the thoughts as an indicator that you may be having a depressive episode that needs to be managed.

It’s never too late to stop believing the lies. ❤️

We offer remote therapy sessions anywhere within Pennsylvania. Most people qualify for a sliding-scale discount; use the calculator to instantly see what your fee would be. Email IntersectionalLife@gmail.com to schedule a session.

Letting Go of “Unlikeability”

You Have Been Good Enough All Along – by @tlkateart
 
 
You may have recently seen some discussions about a post online stating that trauma survivors are “fundamentally unlikeable.” I hope it has not been too derailing to your healing.
 
If it has been derailing or activating to you, it may help if you can step back mentally and see the statement for what it is: a cognitive distortion arising from PTSD. It is also an expression of internalized ableism.
 
Remember, when you have feelings of depression or anxiety, your feelings are understandable and deserve compassion. AND–you also do not have to buy into the cognitions or judgments that arise from these feelings!
 
In Radical Acceptance, Tara Brach talks about the “trance of unworthiness” that is engendered by trauma. This is also called “SHAME.” This kind of shame is the deep sense that one is fundamentally unworthy of love. (It is different from guilt, which is a pain from hurting someone and a motivator to do better next time.)
 
In my experience as a clinician and also as a trauma survivor, shame is pretty well universal among trauma survivors and it is easy to get sucked into. But you can remember not to buy into it. You do not have to buy into internalized ableism.
 
If someone dislikes you because you have trauma symptoms, that has more to do with who they are than who you are. If you feel unlikeable because of your trauma, that has more to do with trauma symptoms than with your actual likeability.
 
Another important aspect of this is that you do not owe anyone a performance of likeability. You yourself may want or need to be liked, for your own reasons: psychological, social, practical, or safety reasons. But likeability is not something you owe to others. You don’t have to be likeable for the sake of others’ comfort.
 
 
You are not a burden, you are carrying a burden
 
You are not a burden, we are lucky to have you
You Are Not a Burden by @tlkateart
 
 
You might also find it useful to listen to the following meditation from Tara Brach*: Healing Shame
 

(Note: Dr. Brach uses “toxic shame” vs. “healthy shame” to refer to what I would call “shame” vs. “guilt.”)

 

You are already fundamentally likeable, just as you are. ❤️

 

About Those “Pandemic Pounds”

In the past few weeks, I’ve seen an increase in people discussing and writing about having gained weight since the event of the pandemic. Many of us have turned a corner from “acute crisis” to “settling in for the long haul,” and we’re taking stock now. We’ve also recently heard some public figures make critical remarks and references to others’ weight, which has only increased pressure on everyone who already struggles with body image or who experiences criticism about their bodies.

Just so you know, this is not a post about how to lose weight. This is a post about some steps to take if you are thinking about losing weight. This is because the first thing we often jump to when feeling unhappy about our bodies is restricting food intake (“dieting”). But that’s often literally the last thing to do! So please remember to consider these other factors FIRST before jumping to food restriction.

Sleep

Sleep is often one of the biggest factors in weight changes. Have you been struggling with sleep the past few months? Many people have, whether because of anxiety, depression, or change in routine. Sleep deprivation can change hormones: it reduces leptin and increases ghrelin, which can dramatically disrupt both appetite and metabolism. This can mean experiencing intense cravings and processing fuel differently.

Sleep deprivation also interferes with executive function, which means both cognitive and emotional processes are harder to manage. That can mean it’s hard to plan for and prepare the food you’d like to eat. It can also mean increased emotional eating, or in some cases loss of appetite because of anxiety or depression.

So first of all, make sure to prioritize sleeping enough and sleeping regularly before addressing your eating.

Exercise

After getting your sleep on track, next consider how you’ve been exercising (or not!)

Whether you’re an essential worker who’s been stressed and working extra hours, or you’ve been working from home, or you’ve been unemployed and out of your normal routine, your body needs the stress outlet of some kind of movement.

Often when people are worried about weight, they focus on exercise as a method of “burning calories.” There are a lot of good reasons to exercise, but “burning calories” is usually an unhealthy way to approach exercise. It’s often an approach that is self-punishing (“I must do an unpleasant activity because of my size!”) or contains elements of bargaining or paying for eating (“I can eat this food I like if I ‘pay’ for it by exercising!”) You don’t have to “pay” for eating with exercise.

A healthy exercise approach is to focus on improving heart function, improving lung capacity, gaining flexibility, metabolizing cortisol to decrease anxiety and regulate sleep, and attenuating depression. In other words, exercise to improve your physical and mental health. Not as a way to neutralize eating.

Nutrition

If you are not satisfied with the overall nutritional balance of foods you are eating, then you are certainly allowed to modify what you’re eating. But when changing your diet, it is important to remember that the goal is to first ADD components you believe you are not getting enough of. Maybe you feel you’re not getting enough leafy greens, or enough legumes, or protein, or calcium. Search out foods that will help to add those elements to the overall balance of your diet! It is acceptable to still eat other foods for enjoyment.

It can be hard to prioritize “adding in” foods, partly because we are constantly bombarded by puritanical, perfectionistic messages that we should be removing or restricting foods.

Checking in with Your Emotional Side

So you’ve stabilized your sleep, you’ve improved your relationship with exercise, you’re getting a better balance of the nutrients you need, and maybe that’s enough! Maybe you’re back to feeling okay!

–Or, maybe you still feel you’re eating more than you want to, or more than you think you “should.” What then? You’re doing all the “right stuff!” Why are you still eating more! Well, this is the hard part, as the emotional component of any behavior change usually is.

Whenever a behavior is difficult to change, there is usually some part of you that is using the behavior to feel okay. To feel safe, comforted, entertained, loved, awake, valued, to feel pleasure. Eating is such an emotionally layered action. We are not simply input/output mechanisms for fuel and activity.

What emotional need has food been fulfilling for you while you’ve been dealing with stress? Until you can find another satisfactory way to fulfill that emotional need, you will continue to use eating behavior as an emotional tool. No amount of calorie tracking, substitute sweeteners, or rigid meal-planning will sustainably alter that dynamic.

Something to keep in mind is that you can’t fool yourself about your own motives. What I mean by this is, you may be saying to others or to yourself, “I’m doing this for my own good! I need to restrict my food for my health!” but meanwhile there is part of you thinking “I’m going to restrict food because I should be punished [for existing, for taking up space, for using any resources, for having the “wrong” appearance].”  Or maybe there is a part telling you that it’s not okay to be fat, or maybe it’s calling yourself names.

Guess what? Until you can keep that part of you from bullying the part that is using food to feel better, it will only make things worse for all parts of you.

Ironically, the bullying part needs patience and tenderness to change, too. That bully part is usually trying to protect you from the criticism of important others. “If I criticize me first, then I won’t get criticism from others.” Let the bullying part of you know that you truly appreciate the protection, but that it’s not necessary any longer. You don’t need it to call you names or harass you.

When you are able to pacify the bullying part, then you will be able to more clearly hear the part using food as an emotional tool.

If that part of you is using food for comfort or safety, is there something else you can use sometimes to feel comforted or safe? If that part is using food to feel loved or valued, can you find some other ways to remind yourself you are loved and valuable? If that part has been using food to quell boredom, can it tell you some other things that might help you feel interested and alive?

Once you have examined the emotional underpinnings of your eating habits and your body image, then you can find more acceptance for yourself, and you can choose whether you want to change your behaviors. But in the meanwhile, remember that this body has carried you, and helped you survive and overcome everything that you have lived through so far. It deserves gratitude and care from you! And so do you, yourself.  ❤

The article linked below has more discussion about an emotionally balanced approach to eating:

Intersectional Life Counseling and Psychology offers remote video sessions for PA residents, as well as sliding-scale rates from $70. Please EMAIL if you would like to schedule or have any questions!

 

Flattening The Curve – Sessions Go Online This Week!

Dear clients, friends, and community members,

In light of recent recommendations from the medical community and state government to reduce social contact and public exposure in order to help reduce overall spread of the novel coronavirus, therapy sessions will be moving online as of the upcoming week (Monday 3/16/20). Let’s work together to #flattenthecurve and keep our community healthy!

waitingroom2

thera-link-mug

 

 

 

 

 

Thera-Link is a secure, HIPAA-compliant, appropriately encrypted platform that a number of clients have already been using since early 2019. Clients have joined therapy sessions using their computers and/or phones, and have so far usually reported it to be very easy to use.

Current clients will be contacted individually with the necessary information to join their therapy sessions this week. New clients* are also still welcome to schedule sessions!

Intersectional Life Counseling and Psychology offers remote video sessions (in-office sessions suspended temporarily) for PA residents, as well as sliding-scale rates from $70.

Please email us if you would like to schedule or have any questions!

(*Please note: clients MUST be in PA during sessions due to licensure and legal issues.)

StayHomeGame

Stay Home Simulator by Brendon Chung @BlendoGames

Flattening The Curve – Sessions Go Online This Week!

Dear clients, friends, and community members,

In light of recent recommendations from the medical community and state government to reduce social contact and public exposure in order to help reduce overall spread of the novel coronavirus, therapy sessions will be moving online as of the upcoming week (Monday 3/16/20). Let’s work together to #flattenthecurve and keep our community healthy!

waitingroom2

thera-link-mug

 

 

 

 

 

Thera-Link is a secure, HIPAA-compliant, appropriately encrypted platform that a number of clients have already been using since early 2019. Clients have joined therapy sessions using their computers and/or phones, and have so far usually reported it to be very easy to use.

Current clients will be contacted individually with the necessary information to join their therapy sessions this week. New clients* are also still welcome to schedule sessions!

Intersectional Life Counseling and Psychology offers remote video sessions (in-office sessions suspended temporarily) for PA residents, as well as sliding-scale rates from $70.

Please email us if you would like to schedule or have any questions!

(*Please note: clients MUST be in PA during sessions due to licensure and legal issues.)

StayHomeGame

Stay Home Simulator by Brendon Chung @BlendoGames

Your Loved One Has Dissociative Identity Disorder?

If you have a loved one who has Dissociative Identity Disorder (AKA “multiple personalities”), you may have felt uneasy or even frightened at times. It can be disconcerting to think you do not really know who they are. It may be awful to think of the traumatic experiences they survived that led to the dissociation.

This is partly because for many people, the only understanding they have of Dissociative Identity Disorder comes from sensationalized depictions in movies or TV, showing DID experiencers as unpredictable, deceptive, violent–nearly supernaturally so!

But it’s important to take a pragmatic approach to understanding this experience and not to exoticize or blame your loved one.

In other words, they are not an exotic disorder. They are not their traumatic experiences. They are not possessed. They did not “cause” the disorder. They did not ask for nor deserve the trauma during which it developed. They aren’t “faking.” They are not a case for you to manage. They are a regular person who needs love, acceptance, and healing.

Everyone has “parts” –different personality presentations and experiences that are expressed in different situations. We all act at least somewhat differently at a job interview than at the club, or at church, or with a close friend who is very accepting, or in class, or around a judgmental neighbor, or around a secret crush.

The main difference is that for those who have DID, those different presentations have become dissociated from each other: there is a disruption of the underlying thread of memory and consciousness that most of us have between all our parts.

An important thing to remember is that while you may not like one or some of your loved one’s parts (and you don’t have to!), there are no “bad” parts. Every part’s feelings are a valid expression, even if not every part’s wishes should be acted on.

Nothing your loved one experiences is beyond the understanding of humans generally. You don’t need to be an expert in Internal Family Systems to connect with them. It’s useful to have some information, but primarily, just be a human with a loving connection. ❤

If you are interested in reading more in-depth about Dissociative Identity Disorder from someone who experiences it, here is an essay that is addressed to therapists but may also be useful for others who have loved ones with this type of dissociation:

TEN STEPS TO BECOMING A DISSOCIATION-FRIENDLY THERAPIST

 

 

Immigrant Families Finding Therapy

Because of the many layers of stresses and even traumas associated with immigration, immigrants and their families may face high levels of mental distress. This includes things such as traumatic events that were severe enough to make them leave their home country in the first place, as well as the great difficulties in adjusting to a new and sometimes hostile environment.

In today’s social and political climate, stresses and traumas are higher than ever, making mental health support even more crucial. But as challenging as getting started with therapy can be, it can be even harder for immigrants and their families.

This piece by Lauren Hodges explains why, and offers MANY great suggestions to help you or a family member get mental health support!

 

 

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You Are Not Your Trauma

 

An early experience of trauma can have effects that you may not start experiencing until adulthood. It can feel “crazy”! But having PTSD symptoms doesn’t mean that you will always feel that way. It means that you have emotions and reactions that are ready to be processed so that you can begin healing.

While healing from trauma can be a lifelong process, you can often start feeling better in many ways right away! You are still a whole, worthy human being, rich in the capacity to enjoy life in your own ways.

If you are ready to start processing, please review our quick chart to see how you can access our therapeutic services from anywhere in Pennsylvania!

 

You Are Already Worthy!

 

Calling yourself “lazy” or “unproductive” is usually an internalized message of shame from your formative years. The message is “If you would just ‘will’ yourself to do more, then you would be acceptable and worthy. Otherwise, you must just be a bad, unworthy person.”

The fact is, you are already acceptable and worthy, without doing anything to “earn” that worth. Now, you might feel better or happier if you were doing certain things, and they are certainly worth trying, to see if that is the case.

But feeling terrible about yourself is not a good motivator for anyone! In fact, it is likely to worsen your exhaustion, depression, anxiety, insomnia, and concentration, which will make it even harder to do whatever it is you would like to be doing.

If you are ready to start healing your self-worth, please review our quick chart to see how you can access our therapeutic services from anywhere in Pennsylvania!