Natalie Harvey, MS, MFT
|Posted on January 1, 2018 at 7:07 PM||comments (122)|
Opening Up the Dialogue
As I embark on this New Year I am resolute in the decision to dedicate more time and energy towards helping families in the crisis we are witnessing and experiencing in our community with our young people. Each day that passes in both my professional therapy practice and as a member of this culture, I feel more and more pulled by a responsibility to expand the ways of helping teens and young adults who are struggling and suffering, much of the time silently and without overt signs. The demands our fast-paced, achievement oriented, individualistic, and media driven culture brings is literally killing our kids, the next generation, and we all have an obligation to respond to their pleas for help. I will help guide the way and walk alongside others to open more space for communication, support, and solutions.
Over the years in my practice I have had the privilege, and continue to have the privilege of, working with some of the brightest, most talented, and passionate teens; adolescents who, on the outside most would think they don’t need help at all. While spending time with these teens and young adults and their families, there is an overarching theme that presents itself day after day,- they are exhausted. On the outside everything looks perfect or damn near; inside they are panicked, overwhelmed, sick, depleted, losing sleep,and desperate for relief. There is often a level of hopelessness that is pervasive and all-consuming. From this place, it is a frightening (false) reality to them that there is no way out. And for some suicide seems like the only way to escape it. This “solution” is being completed more and more. Let's listen to and honor those we've already lost and let their actions drive us toward new solutions. We owe it to them, to their families, to ourselves, and to those kids we can still save.
I am not talking about teens with clinical major depression. These aren't teens who are holed up in their room and who don't care. I am talking about the kid who often has great academic standing, is remarkably talented as an athlete or artist, who has many friends, a wonderful family, and a full life. The ones who care so so much. The value given to busy-ness, achieving more, and left brain knowledge has our kids losing their sense of wonder, play, passion, creativity, and ability to be satisfied in just being. This has not equipped our kids with the ability to cope with the complex feelings that are a part of each and every person’s individual human experience. They know more information, can out math any of us, but they have lost the ability to rest and to feel their worth outside of their work, looks, or likes.
While I have sat in anger and sadness about the reality our kids (and therefore all of us) are facing, it also becomes clear that we are in an era that is very different than any before. While I was going through my teen years in the ‘90s, relatively not all that long ago, we did not have social media nor the other technology that our teens' lives are centered around. It was simpler. And with that said, it was soooooo not simple. Being a teenager is never simple or easy. They are navigating so much. It is no wonder we have no idea how to handle what is happening so fast and without any guidebook; how to healthfully guide our youth in this unknown territory. Yet still, there is an undeniable hope that we can change the course for these kiddos, and for our future generations.
People are more aware now than I have ever seen in my lifetime. And we are taking this awareness into action in ways that truly creates change. I am ready to take my practice, knowledge, experience, and passion to another level in 2018 and beyond. I hope you will join me as we listen more, speak up more, slow down more, and love more. Stay tuned for more on this. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me (and to each other), and in the meantime: hug your kids, listen to them,-truly listen to them, see them,- really see them as they are, help them rest, support them to get outside and create more without evaluation or judgment, and please please take care of yourselves (because they are watching).
|Posted on June 15, 2016 at 11:18 AM||comments (162)|
Self-Care for Caretakers
The importance of filling our cups
In my years as a therapist within the Bay Area community, it has increasingly come to my attention just how many caretakers we have among us. When you really think about it, all of us are people who take care of others…whether it be for children, animals, elders, friends, clients, students, patients, sisters, brothers, parents or anyone else who we give our energy, time, love, money, and compassion to. Much of the time, it is such a rewarding, energizing, and meaningful position to be in. Our compassion and hearts guide us to honor, teach, and help others, often for not much in return other than the joy of being of service to someone we care about. To see a smile come to their face is often enough. However, it can also lead to us becoming burnt out, drained, reactive, exhausted, sick, and suffer from what has been called a secondary traumatic stress disorder accurately named “compassion fatigue”. This leads us to a place where we are not seeing the good in much of anything and wanting to complain about mostly everything. We feel exhausted, on edge, and depleted, desperately wanting relief. I imagine you may be able to relate to these difficult feelings.
When we work as caregivers, it is common to get irritable and depleted. Our work seems endless. Caring so much can hurt. We often feel physically, emotionally, mentally, and relationally spent. When caregivers focus on others without practicing consistent self-care, destructive behaviors can, and most likely will, surface.
Obviously giving to others is not bad, and is our human nature, a beautiful part of our interconnectedness. It can feel quite wonderful to give to others, but giving at the expense of our own well-being is damaging to our own body and peace of mind. Irritability, negativity, isolation, bottled up emotions, physical illness, and substance abuse head a long list of symptoms associated with compassion fatigue.
I am convinced that, when we are suffering, it is only natural that we don’t have much to give. When we are thriving, we are coming from a place of having enough for ourselves and having enough for others.
Just from my own experience, I know that when I am suffering I am not nearly as available, present, and compassionate as I am when I am taken care of. This means that my basic needs are met and I am being kind and loving to myself. The first and necessary step to avoiding burn out and being kind to our self is to practice being mindful. We are constantly "do-ing" and what I am asking of you is to focus on the practice of being a little more. Experiencing “be-ing” mode can help us feel more whole and relaxed; we move from reacting automatically to having more choices about how we respond, based on a fuller understanding and acceptance of our own sensory, physical, and emotional experience. When we attune to our own experience we can tap into an essential guiding light that will intuitively help us respond in the most helpful way. The more gentle we can be with ourselves, the more patience and energy we will have.
While we always have the opportunity to implement more self care strategies on our own, receiving support to help guide us toward accessing our own inner and outer resources can be incredibly important. Often times we have wounds and strategies that are barriers to nourishment. Getting gentle attention and care to chip away at those barriers is something that a skilled therapist can help provide. It is a huge step just recognizing that you may be suffering from compassion fatigue. I can help support you on your way to healing and feeling more available for yourself and those who are fortunate to receive your care and attention.