September 18, 2018

10 Things I wish people knew about my ADHD (from a therapist) – Part 2

My feelings are big for a reason.

One of the common traits of ADHD that isn’t in the DSM-V is emotional hyperarousal.  That basically means that I tend to feel emotions more intensely than others.  I don’t just get a little mad, I get a LOT mad.  I’m not just a little happy, I’m over the moon giddy. It’s overwhelming.  It’s not just my own feelings that I’m sensitive to, but also the feelings of others.  What others are feeling tends to hit me harder.  This helps to make me a better therapist, but it can make the world “emotionally loud.”  It’s nothing that I’m choosing to do as it is a by-product of how my brain is wired.

Kids with ADHD struggle much more with emotional regulation and need a lot more support in this area.  So, parents, your kids aren’t out of control necessarily, but they need some understanding and support in learning how to calm down.  That’s why I find that yelling and punishment strategies tend to be less effective with these kids.  They stir up too many big emotions and impair the child’s ability to think clearly and stay calm.

For those of you struggling with hyperarousal, practicing meditation, mindfulness and other self-control techniques is crucial.  Learning to cool that hot temper makes life easier.

I need to do things differently sometimes, different isn’t always bad.

Here are some of my quirks:  I must always have a tv or radio going.  The background noise actually helps my focus.  I tend to have multiple projects going on at once.  As I wrote this article, I’ve got a book I’m reading at hand, my Rubik’s cube I’m learning to solve right here, and I’m listening to music.  I bounce from activity to activity.  I tend to like having things out where I can see them so I remember to use them.  I organize in piles.  I’m pretty much the only person that understands my organization, but it works for me.  This stuff drives people around me nuts at times.  They don’t get it.  They can’t work like that (the noise is distracting, the piles and things out in the open are like clutter, they can only do one thing at a time).

Here’s the thing.  Each and every one of those potentially annoying quirks represents a coping mechanism that Maximizes the characteristics of my unique neurology.  Bottom line is doing these things allows me to get stuff done…and that is the goal isn’t it?

If you love someone with ADHD, try to be understanding of their coping quirks.  Just because these things would never ever work for you doesn’t mean they are wrong.  If it’s your child, help her find her unique coping strategies that will let her succeed.  If you’re a partner or spouse, try to have some patience and make room for what helps your loved one work.  Perhaps talk non-judgmentally about the various coping needs and find ways to compromise around them so they are perhaps less intrusive.

If you have ADHD, be patient with those around you.  It’s hard for people to fathom how we think.  It is also important that we respect the needs and space of others if we want them to respect our needs.  So, try to make sure your quirks don’t overly impact or interfere with the daily living of those around you.  Instead of piles of organization all over the house, maybe agree on a specific place where you can keep things how you want.  If you need constant noise like me, wear headphones to not disturb others when they need quiet.  Those are just some examples, the important point is be willing to be flexible and compromise even though that may be a challenge.

I can’t “just pay attention”.

There is a saying I see on social media from time to time.  It is attributed to Albert Einstein (though I’m not sure how true that is).  It goes something like “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by Its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”  What does this have to do with my paying attention?  Simple, “Pay attention” is one of the most common things I’ve been told to do my whole life.  My inability to do this seemingly simple thing has quite literally driven me nuts.  It was like I was a fish being commanded to climb a tree.

At the end of the day, I can’t just “pay attention” as that’s not how my brain works.  If I could do it, I wouldn’t have ADHD.  My lack of focus isn’t some moral failing.  It’s not rudeness or stupidity.  Furthermore, more discipline, spanking, punishment won’t suddenly rewire my brain to be more attentive.  The same goes for your ADHD loved ones.  What does work is understanding how my brain works.  For those of you in the tribe, understanding yourself and letting go the self-judgements is key.  Learning how to create motivation to enhance focus, developing the discipline to let go distractors when necessary, make life a joy to live.  ADHD doesn’t go away.  It’s there got life, but it isn’t a life sentence.

Lots of little failures everyday leave deep hurts.

Inattention, disorganization, procrastination, anxiety.  These are some of the things that I struggle wth on an almost daily basis.  They lead to lots of little failures.  Forgetting my homework at home even though I did it.  Only doing one side of the worksheet.  Losing things I need.  Forgetting appointments.  These can happen to me more often than others.  Each one feels horrible when it happens.  As a friend of mine says, “It’s like being pecked to death by a chicken.”  The looks that others give me when I forget.  The teacher comments on the report card…”He can do the work.” Or “he not only marches to the beat of his own drummer, he’s got his own band.”  They leave marks that only I can see.

Folks with ADHD carry these invisible hurts and it leads to poor self-esteem.  Hopelessness and helplessness are not far behind.  This can lead to depression and even more anxiety.  We become hyper sensitive to failure and rejection.  In some cases, we just stop trying…we give up and just focus on anything at all that might make us feel good.  Punishments don’t motivate us because they just reinforce the self-perception of failure and become objective proof that we can’t do what others seem to do easily.

Help us mend the hurts.  Help us to figure out our own coping skills.  Cheer us on.  That’s what we need instead of constant criticism.

I can be scared to fail, but also scared to succeed and that can leave me stuck.

At it’s worst, ADHD can leave me (and those like me) feeling stuck.  We don’t want to fail but keep getting tripped up by our foibles..,so the failure seems inevitable.  We fear the failure.  Ironically, this makes success scary too.  If my failure is inevitable, then success can seem either unattainable or unsustainable.  If I succeed, then there’s farther to fall when I fail.  Quite the catch-22.

The truth is, failure is inevitable.  We all fail at one time or another.  Learning to appreciate the successes when they come and to not get caught up in the failures is key.  Learning to appreciate the good and remember the bad is temporary is the most valuable lesson I’ve received.  It’s such a powerful coping skill.

Parents, teach your kids this.  Help them to stay in the moment and not get caught up in the kind of fear based thinking that paralyzes and leads to avoidance.

I need cheerleaders, not critics.

So all that being said, folks with ADHD need cheerleaders.  They need people in their life who accept them for who they are, the good, the bad and the ugly.  They need to be loved despite the foibles and quirks.  They need people who will celebrate every little win and when things aren’t going well will speak the truth to them, but also say “you can do it!”  Someone who will help put the lie to the belief of powerlessness, hopelessness and helplessness that all the little failures seems to create in us.

We don’t need critics.  Telling how we screwed up is simply preaching to the choir.  We know.  We are painfully aware of when we’ve messed up.  Our emotionality and sensitivity to rejection guarantee it.  Instead of telling us the obvious, help us learn to do better.  Remind us that we CAN do it (because we forget all too often).  Have high expectations, make us strive to be the best…but cheer us to the top of the mountain, don’t shame us away from the bottom.

ADHD is a superpower, not a disability.

Most of this stuff has been, admittedly, really negative and, truth be told, living with ADHD can be really hard at times.  The definition of ADHD is all about the deficits.  Large sections of our society are often not ADHD friendly.  However, I truly believe that ADHD is a super power.  I’ve got crazy energy and drive (thanks hyperactivity!).  Hyper-focus allows me to get more done in the morning than most people get done all day.

We have wonderful creativity.  We are passionate.  We can be a lot of fun (we’re experts at fun).   We’re youthful.  We can multi-task.  We’re great at coming up with big ideas and getting them started.

These are really positive traits that can make for a wonderful life.  All it takes is some self-awareness, some supports, some cheerleading, and some flexibility and ADHD as a disability virtually disappears.

 

I hope that you found this article helpful.  Please feel free to share your experiences about living with ADHD (either as the who has it or as someone who loves someone who has it) in the comments below.  If you would like to work on ways to turn ADHD into a super-power, please feel free to reach out to me. Erik@erikyoungcounseling.com  You can read Part 1 here.  You can read more about ADHD as a superpower here.

©2018 Erik Young Counseling LLC

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10 Things I wish people knew about my ADHD (from a therapist) – Part 1

I’m a therapist and I have ADHD

As the heading says, I have ADHD and I’m also a therapist.  I work a lot with special needs families and that means a lot of families struggling in some way with ADHD.  I also know that my family is impacted by my ADHD needs and behaviors.  It can be awesome and fun, and it can also be very frustrating for me and for them.  I’m living in a world built by and for neurotypical people.  Somedays it is hard to adjust to that.  It’s like wearing clothes that are both too big and too small.  There have been many times in my life where I wished others could understand what was up with me.  I couldn’t explain myself because at that time (especially as a child) I didn’t understand myself.  So, that is why I wrote this piece.  To help explain my experience and maybe help others who have or love someone who has ADHD to get along a little better.

I’m not lazy!

This is something I used to hear a lot growing up, and sometimes hear now.  It always hurt and, even more than that, confused me.  If I was so lazy, then why was I always scrambling so much and working so hard?  Sure, I’d get too lost in my hobbies and I often struggled to get boring stuff like homework done.  This was not out of a sense of not wanting to do it, not having the energy or wherewithal.  No.  It was because it was just harder for me to pay attention to all the little details.  To maintain my focus when there were a million other things clamoring and screaming for my attention.  It’s like trying to listen to a song on the radio as you drive through the mountains.  The signal keeps fading in and out, then a competing radio signal breaks in for a second.  It’s frustrating and difficult to follow the song, right?  That’s my brain all the time.  Can you imagine?  If it were you, you’d probably want to dive into something soothing and distracting too.  You might resent having to leave that safe headspace to go back to the frustrating radio station.

It’s not lazy, its coping.  It’s not willful (though it often seems as if it is), its survival.

For those of you who belong to the ADHD tribe, learning how to mindfully and consciously find your brain soothers to calm the frustrations.  Learn to cultivate motivation where it is lacking to get things done.  How to leave the fun stuff and get back to it later.  These are important goals and are skills to be learned.  Never accept the label of lazy.  It doesn’t fit, and you don’t deserve it.

I care deeply.

When I was younger, I was accused often of not caring about things such as chores, homework, others’ feelings and the like.  This hurt deeply because I really did care.  That I couldn’t seem to do the simple things that everyone else did to get through the day was a mystery to me, and then to be blamed for it like I was doing it on purpose really just sucked (to put it mildly).  To this day, I look at people who are organized, never late, always have everything they need to do what they have to do and it just seems like magic.  I can do that stuff too, now, and it takes a lot of effort and coordinated outside structure for me to give the illusion of togetherness.

Back in the day, maybe I didn’t seem to care because I couldn’t get it together.  So, when I was accused of not caring I just stuffed those feelings deep inside so as not to show the hurt.  Also, it’s possible not that I didn’t care but that whatever it is that I was supposed to care about, that thing that everyone else thought was really important, simply didn’t make it onto my radar.  I remember getting chewed out by my boss at work once when I was in my 20’s.  I showed up to work on time, but there was a staff meeting going on.  I had no idea.  I don’t remember being told.  I don’t recall seeing a memo or a note posted anywhere.  Obviously, word got out, because everyone else was there.  I missed it.  Was probably distracted by something or too focused on something for that information to get into my head.  So, it looked like I didn’t care about my job.  I assure you I did.  Just because I struggle at times to keep eye contact (because something shiny moved in my peripheral vision) or because I can’t sit still, just because I forgot something because it was out of my routine or because I don’t attend to the obvious because it was not obvious for me does not mean I don’t care.  I do.  A lot.  I feel awful when I let people down.  I feel awful when I fail.

For those of you who have been through this yourselves, give yourselves permission to not be perfect.  It’s ok to mess up so long as you work to make it right and make it better.  Don’t get caught up in the comparison game where you feel bad about what you do compared to everyone else.  Just do your best.  Show your caring through action.  Don’t let the uninformed opinions of others take up space in your head.

There is NO attention deficit.  ADHD is mislabeled.

Anyone who has seen me for ADHD treatment has heard me get on my soapbox about this.  First, I dislike the diagnostic criteria for ADHD in general.  They are deficit focused, missing out on the things that folks with ADHD can do and are good at.  They are incomplete, missing things such as rejection sensitive dysphoria.  Academic (classroom) oriented and missing aspects of living in the wider world. Secondly, as the title suggest, there is NO attention deficit.

The core “symptom” of ADHD is labeled wrong and thus misunderstood.  It’s not that people with ADHD can’t pay attention.  I know that I can do something I like (make music, play video games, do therapy) for hours.  I lose track of time doing it.  I see my clients having similar issues.  Anyone that can single-mindedly focus on doing anything and do it for hours at a time is not lacking in attention.  I suspect that the very name of the condition leads to the misperception of who we are as people (see the above sections about laziness and not caring).

The attention is there.  Its just that the threshold of stimulation needed to activate that attention seems to be much higher than in neurotypical people.  Basically, those of us with ADHD need a lot more stimulation to feel normal and pay attention than other people.  The world does not provide, so we walk around in a state somewhat like perpetual boredom with our brains going “What’s that!  What’s that!  What’s that!”  trying to find something interesting to make that stimulation happen. When the stimulation we are receiving meets our need for stimulation then we don’t just get focused, and we get this hyper-focus, the super power of ADHD.  It’s amazing when it happens, and it doesn’t often happen easily.

One of the most important skills someone with ADHD has to master is creating motivation where it is lacking and unlocking hyper-focus.  Learning how to pay the toll for focus and make it work.  It can be done.  It simply takes practice and effort.

I hope that you found this article helpful.  Please feel free to share your experiences about living with ADHD (either as the who has it or as someone who loves someone who has it) in the comments below.  If you would like to work on ways to turn ADHD into a super-power, please feel free to reach out to me. Erik@erikyoungcounseling.com Part 2 will be published in a few days.

Read Part 2 here

©2018 Erik Young Counseling LLC

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A DAY IN THE ADHD LIFE: SCENES FROM A JAKE’S WAYBACK BURGER

True confessions time.  I have attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder.  To my friends and family, I am sure this does not come as much of a surprise.  I am 46 and grew up in a place (Texas, then New Jersey) and a time (the 1970’s and 1980’s) where ADHD wasn’t as well-known as it is now.  Basically, I grew up undiagnosed until well into adulthood.  This is why I like working with kids and families dealing with adhd…it’s something with which I’m intimately familiar with.  Today, I describe a recent event in my life where my adhd brain got the better of me.  I’m hoping this will both amuse and educate you guys about what it’s like to live with this condition.

Let’s set the wayback machine for two weeks ago.  My fiancée and I were out shopping, running some wedding errands, etc.  Truth be told, I’m not huge shopping fan so my interest level wasn’t at 100% (though getting these errands done was important).  Furthermore, I’d not slept well the night before and was not my best mentally.  I could tell it was a bad adhd day.  My mind was bouncing from thought to thought like an overly eager and friendly Labrador retriever.  What I’m saying is from an attention management perspective, I was nowhere near the top of my game.

During our outing, it occurred to us we should eat food.  We decided to treat ourselves by stopping in a Jake’s Wayback Burger.  For those of you not in the know, this place sells incredibly great burgers and awesome shakes.  They’re a little pricey, but very tasty.  Inside, my labrador mind immediately noticed the cool posters in the place.  Each poster represented a decade (from the 30’s to the 80’s) and I found that I had to put a lot of effort and energy to keep my eyes from wandering from my fiancée (who is a lovely woman) to studying the posters.

To make matters worse, the two guys at the table next to us were having a loud, weird and interesting conversation.  Near as I can tell, one guy was starting some sort go video game start up.  He actually said “we’re going to be the next Nintendo.”  He was selling hard to someone who appeared to be associated with some sort of community access cable channel.  They were talking very loudly and the selling was hard.  My fiancée and I both were giving each other silent looks regarding what we were both hearing. We weren’t sure if it was a business meeting or a date. Anyway, this was another thing drawing my attention away from my fiancée and our conversation.

The proverbial camel breaking straw came partway through our meal when from behind me, someone in the kitchen yelled something to someone else in the kitchen.  I had no idea what they said.  I was caught utterly and completely by surprise.  That it happened behind me in my blind spot didn’t help.  Immediately, my attention was pulled behind me.  The Labrador in my head went “HUH??!?!”  I was powerless to stop it for a good couple of seconds.

The result was that I totally didn’t hear what my fiancée said.  As she is an intelligent and observant woman, she totally noticed my attention shift and knew in that moment I didn’t hear her.  I knew that she knew I wasn’t paying attention.  The Labrador tucked his tail between his legs and started to whimper.  I felt terrible because it was clear her feelings were hurt.  This wedding stuff is important and its important I be a part of it.  In that moment, even though I’m totally invested in the wedding and the planning, that’s not how it looked.  Once again, I let someone I cared about down and there was nothing I could have done to avoid it.  Somedays, this adhd thing really sucks.

She called me out on my lack of attention.  I tried to be cool about it at first, but ultimately had to own up to the fact that I missed some of what she said.  Explaining what happened and apologizing, I did the only thing I could do.  Ask her to repeat herself. As her feelings were hurt, she did not want to at first.

We talked some more about what adhd is like for me.  I suspect many of you have had similar conversations with parents, partners and friends.  The neurotypical folks in our lives don’t understand the struggle of how easily our attention gets split.  They don’t see all the ways we must compensate for adhd mind.  They do, however, see the frequent lapses in attention.  When it gets personalized, they get hurt…we in turn, often get defensive.

If you love someone with adhd, understand these important points:

  • ADHD is forever. Don’t confuse an apparent lack of symptoms for a lack of ADHD.  Your loved one has probably learned to cope better.
  • Coping skills only go so far. Lack of sleep, environmental attention grabbers, etc. impact our ability to attend.  If stressors exceed coping, our attention will go bye bye.   Don’t take that personally.  Not to be cliché, but it’s not you, its us.
  • Know that we really want to pay better attention and most of us are trying really hard to stay engaged and attentive.
  • Help us by calling us out on our lack of attention to get us to re-attend. But do so without judgment or ire.  We may need the help, but the other stuff just gets us resentful and defensive.

For those of you, like me, who have adhd, try the following:

  • Be aware of how good or bad your attention might be. Be honest with your loved ones about when you might be struggling.   Help them understand.  Help them to help you.
  • Be honest with yourself when your attention is weak and try to implement appropriate coping skills.
  • When things go awry, don’t personalize it or get down on yourself. Apologize, reset, refocus.  It’s ok.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help. We tend to be the kind of people that don’t ask for help or assistance.  We’re often tired of being “failures”.  Failure only happens when you don’t get the support you need.  Doing yourself will ultimately end in the failure you’re trying to avoid.

I hope you found this article helpful.  Please share this with everyone you know.  Spread the positivity!

If you would like to work with me on dealing with your adhd symptoms or the adhd symptoms of a loved one, then call 484-693-0582 or go to www.erikyoungcounseling.com to schedule a consultation.

©Erik Young, M.Ed., LPC

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FOUR SIMPLE THINGS YOU CAN DO TODAY TO BE A BETTER YOU IN THE NEW YEAR LESSON TWO

Let’s continue our quest for self-improvement.  The last article, which you can read HERE, focused on the difference between struggle and suffering and how to think about those things in a more positive manner.  As we go through these lessons, you may notice a theme developing.  Each lesson is not a big huge behavioral change requiring a lot of effort to do.  Instead, these lessons are small changes in how we think and look at situations.  These small changes in thought can really add up and lead to more permanent change.  The next article in our four-part series comes to us from the wisdom of Yoda.

Lesson #2:  Do or do not, there is no try

A parent said to me recently “if all you ever do is try to feed the dog, the dog will starve.”  Not only is this hilarious, but its completely true.  I hear “I’ll try” from clients all the time when we talk about change.  Hell, I’m guilty of saying it myself.  The thing is, people who say to me “I’ll do it” are more likely to follow through than the ones who say “I’ll try.”  I know for this is true for me.

What is it about saying try that seems to muck up the works?  I know that sometimes when people use the word try that they often are sincere in their desire to change.  Other times, try is simply a way to look willing to change while avoiding it all together.  It’s a polite way to say “Aw, hell no!”  In either case, “try” thinking seems to interfere with are ability to move forward and actually do stuff.

There is a lot of research done around motivation.  One of the things researchers have found is that when people announce their plans to others they are less likely to follow through and do what they said they’d do.  For instance, you tell all your friends that you are going to start going to the gym 4 times a week and work out for an hour.  You tell them so that they can hold you accountable and keep you honest.  What happens?  In many cases, the gym trips start out fine but then gradually drop off.

Saying “I’ll try” is very like telling our friends our plans.  It tricks our brain into thinking about what would happen.  We imagine the outcome and our brain (which doesn’t do a good job of distinguishing between what we think and what happens) into experiencing completeness.  This experience then gives us the illusion on some level that we already did what we said we were going to do….and then we don’t actually do it.  This phenomenon has been documented in research going back to the turn of the last century.

So, what’s the solution?  How do we not try?  Simple…listen to Nike and JUST DO IT.  Don’t tell everybody your plans, just start working your plans.  Hold yourself accountable.  If you don’t want to do something…be honest and say so.  If you do want to do something…DO IT.  The hardest thing about this is typically getting through the mental/emotional resistance.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve procrastinated, worries, and stressed out about something and once I finally started felt “that wasn’t so hard.”  Has that happened to you?  Probably.  So, remember that.  Remember the feeling of getting stuff done.  Stop getting in your own way and applying the brakes to yourself and start doing the stuff you want and need to do.

I hope you found this article helpful.  Please share this with everyone you know.  Spread the positivity!

If you would like to work with me on getting stuff done and getting out of your own way, then call 484-693-0582 or go to www.erikyoungcounseling.com to schedule a consultation.

Find part one of this series here.

Find part three of this series here.

Find part four of this series here.

©Erik Young, M.Ed., LPC

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FOUR SIMPLE THINGS YOU CAN DO TODAY TO BE A BETTER YOU IN THE NEW YEAR: LESSON ONE

The old year has come to an end and a new year is upon us.  According to most of the social media I’ve been reading, this last year was bad.  I’m talking the fifth season of Night Court bad.  We all seem to be hanging our hopes that this new year will bring us some much-needed relief.  Despite the challenges the previous year presented us, we can’t lose sight of all the positive things that happened in the last year.  It wasn’t all doom and gloom.  I learned some very powerful lessons that have changed my life in positive ways.    These lessons have helped in my personal and professional growth.

I don’t generally subscribe to the idea of making new year’s resolutions.  If you want to change, then you should do that regardless of the time of year.  However, any chance I get to get out of my own way and become happier, healthier and less stressed I jump on it.  Over the course of the next four articles, I will share these ideas with you in hopes that you can be a better, more positive you in 2017.

 

Lesson #1:  Struggle in life is inevitable, suffering is optional

That phrase is purportedly something that stems from Buddhist philosophy.  While I can’t speak to the origins of that phrase, I find it to be profound and moving.  Struggle IS inevitable.  This is a fact that we can do nothing about.  No matter how we try hard times are going to happen to us.  We don’t need to pile on.  Yet, we do this to ourselves all the time.

We fear the struggle and go out of our way to avoid (a futile act) and then beat ourselves of with our thoughts and our behaviors when the struggle inevitably occurs.  If a boxer got into the ring and started to punch himself in the face, we’d think he was crazy.  Yet, we do similar things to ourselves all the time.  We judge, blame, shame, assume, exaggerate, downplay, and twist our experiences in such a way as to add suffering to our experience and those around us.

With a true understanding of this, we can make some profound changes that can bring peace and happiness to ourselves and our loved ones.

  • If struggle is inevitable, then change must therefore be inevitable as well. So, when we are in difficult times (struggle), we can hold on to the fact that the difficulty is temporary and good times are coming our way.  All we need do is take care of business without beating ourselves up physically, mentally or emotionally.  We should also avoid creating suffering for others.  Just try to stay calm and deal with what we can change when we can change it and nothing more.  It is the essence of the Serenity Prayer.

  • Conversely, when we are in good times, then we should appreciate and savor them because eventually, struggle will return. Be mindful and appreciate the blessings and the wonders that the good times afford us.  It’s like Ferris Beuller said, ”Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

I hope you found this article helpful.  Please share this with everyone you know.  Spread the positivity!

If you would like to work with me on increasing your positivity practice or reducing stress then call 484-693-0582 or go to www.erikyoungcounseling.com to schedule a consultation.

Find part two of this series here.

Find part three of this series here.

Find part four of this series here.

©Erik Young, M.Ed., LPC

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Are you taking care of yourself? Try these tips for parental self-care

give yourself a massage!

give yourself a massage!

I.                The importance of self-care

Confession time.  This was me a few years ago.  My days were spent working, running errands, getting the kids to and from school, sports practice, music lessons, doctor appointments, therapy sessions, cleaning the house, walking the dog, paying bills, answering emails, etc.  I’d wake up, go at 100 mph all day with barely time to eat or go to the bathroom.  I’d never have time alone or do anything for myself.  I didn’t sleep well enough or long enough.  My meals were on the go.  I was always exhausted.  Disconnected.  There seemed to be no end in sight.  My health suffered…weight gain, high blood pressure.  My mood suffered… repeated depression and burnout… anxiety and even panic.

Does this sound familiar?  I meet a lot of parents in this boat of doing everything for everyone but not doing for themselves.

Why do we do this to ourselves?  What does this crazy level of sacrifice get us?  What is it teaching our kids?

Parenting is hard.  That’s the tagline on my website.  It’s true too.  Parenting is frustrating, challenging, maddening, joyful, exhilarating, fulfilling…. the adjectives are endless.  No matter if your child has special needs or is neurotypical, parents are faced with an overload of demands on their time, emotions, and energy.

Faced with all of this, many parents throw themselves into their parenting role in the most selfless manner.  Giving of themselves for their family.  This is a wonderful thing to do… to a point.  Parents who do nothing but sacrifice for their family often don’t take care of themselves.  Sacrifice without renewal is a recipe for burn out, overwhelming stress, as well as health and emotional problems.  It eats away at one’s ability to be an effective parent.  When there is nothing left of you… who will care for your family?

Here are some basic ideas for taking care of yourself.  These are things I implemented for myself and I help my clients do for themselves.  Taking time to implement some of these things can help reduce your stress and increase your happiness.  This will give you more energy to take care of your family.  You will be more present and healthier parent.  You will also be modeling good self-care skills for your children, thus helping them to be happier and healthier people themselves.

Good self-care IS good parenting!

II.              Find time to exercise

If I could bottle the effects of exercise, sleep and sunshine… I’d be a Gazillionaire.  The benefits of exercise are too many to list.  Improved health.  Feeling better physically.  Outlet for stress.  It stimulates endorphins (your body’s natural feel good chemicals).  Improves your immune system. More energy.  Improved brain function.  The list goes on.

I consider having a sound exercise plan a crucial part of any stress management strategy.  If you aren’t exercising and moving around a bit you are missing out.

I don’t have the time!  I hear you say.  It’s too hard!  You cry.  I don’t like it!

Yeah… I hear you.  I get it.  Here’s the thing, if you make yourself a priority (remember, take care of yourself so you can take care of others!)… then finding time can be done.  Really, 20 or 30 minutes 3-4 times a week is all you need.  You don’t have to go crazy and live at the gym.  Just take time to go for a walk.  Take up a sport… maybe even something you can do with your kids.

Years ago, I did taekwondo with my kids.  We’d workout and train for competitions together in the morning.  It was a great family activity for years.  I got healthy, my kids got healthy… and we have a ton of great memories together.

The point is… if you make it a priority you can fit it in.  Try different activities until you find some that work for you… that you enjoy.  There aren’t any rules other than (as Nike says) just do it.

III.            Get enough quality sleep

You should be getting 6 to 8 hours of sleep.  If you aren’t sleeping well, then your health (emotional, physical and mental) are all compromised.  Try the following to improve your sleep:

  • Schedule your sleep. Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day.
  • Turn off the electronics (phones, computers, etc.) at least 30 minutes before bed. An hour is even better.
  • Try some slow, deep breathing as you prepare for sleep. Clear the mind and shed some stress.
  • Resist the urge to do projects late into the night… sleep time is important and should be sacrosanct. Putting some emotional and time space between work and activities of daily living and sleep time is crucial.  Allow yourself to wind down.  Whatever projects you are working on will still be there in the morning… and you’ll be better able to tackle them after you’re well rested.

IV.           Enjoy a hobby

It’s too easy for us parents to lose ourselves in our kids. You are more than your kids.  They’re important, no doubt… but they need not be your entire life.  To that end, spending time every week doing stuff that’s just for and about you is important …a hobby or something. For me, I play a lot of music.  It relaxes me.  It’s something I enjoy doing and is part of my identity.  I’ve also indulged in woodworking, chess and reading at various times in the past.  These are things that are important to me above and beyond being a parent or working.

When you engage in a hobby, you destress.  You create opportunities to be successful in ways that parenting and working won’t necessarily allow.  You exercise different parts of your brain and create new and positive neural connections.  Even just 45 minutes a week can be enough to give you a break and renew yourself.  It’s not selfish… because taking care of yourself will allow you to better take care of your loved ones.  You’ll also be more pleasant to be around (happiness is contagious!).

V.             Date night, intimacy, human connection

I can’t tell you how often I see parents who have forgotten why they got together and had kids in the first place.  They run from activity to activity, chore to chore, obligation to obligation and barely have time to say hello to each other in passing.  This is a rough place to be and often strains their relationship.

The fix is simple: get a sitter…go out on regular dates.  Hang out with each other.  Laugh.  Love.  Be adults without the kids hanging around.  Hold hands, hug, kiss.

Couples that do this make for stronger parents.  They have more resilience and warmth in their relationships.  They are happier.

As humans, we need connection to others.  It’s how we’re wired.  It’s a huge necessity.  If that goes missing in our lives, we suffer.  To the extent we suffer, we pass that suffering on to our children and other loved ones inadvertently.

Put the kids to bed a little early once in a while and make time for each other.  Don’t sit there worrying about the day to day…just look into each other’s eyes, make out like teenagers.  Do whatever it takes to stay connected and refreshed.

I have a special needs child…I can’t find a sitter! OR I don’t have the time!

That’s a definite challenge.  Reach out to trusted friends and family members.  Go to your local college and reach out to students in the special education programs.  They are often looking for ways to make money and are being trained in the skills you need for looking after your exceptional; child.  The bottom line is….do what it takes to get out every once in a while and have some fun and human contact with your significant other.

As to the time issue…make the time.  When you make something a priority, you will find the time.  This is important enough to you and those you love that it needs to be a priority. To that end, put something on your schedule.  Even if it needs to be a week or two out.  If you block off the time, then it’s harder to book the time with something else.

What if I’m a single parent?

Then I would heartily recommend you find time to go out with friends or even try dating.  It’s challenging as a special needs parent, yet it can be done.  This will be the subject of my next article in fact.

I hope you found this article helpful.  Please comment and leave other tips for ways parents can engage in self-care.  I’m always looking for new ideas to share.

Also, if you know of someone who might benefit from this article, share it with them.  Finally, if you want to work with me personally to work on a self-care plan, go to www.erikyoungcounseling.com or email me at erik@erikyoungcounseling.com or call 484-693-0582 to set up a consultation.

 

Helpful links:

https://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-tools-tips/healthy-sleep-tips

http://www.brighthorizons.com/family-resources/e-family-news/2013-exercise-and-the-working-parent/

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3 simple things you can do today for a happier family

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3 SIMPLE THINGS YOU CAN DO TODAY FOR A HAPPIER FAMILY

I see a lot of families in my practice. They are all different…different struggles, different needs, different backgrounds…and what seems to unify them all is their desire to simply be happier. Isn’t that what we all want on some level? This article will present 3 simple things that you can do today that will help your family function better and thus be less stressed.

Less Stress = More Happiness!

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TIP #1: MAKE AND POST HOUSE RULES
It seems obvious to this, yet I’m amazed at how often families neglect to do this. Sure, there are usually house rules. They are verbally taught to the children. What doesn’t happen is that the rules get posted up for everyone to see.  Here’s the thing. Kids are great. They’re funny, loving, and we as parents adore them to death. They are terrible at remembering stuff (especially when it’s stuff that might keep them from getting or doing what they want)!  Parents often tell me how they’ve taught the rules to their kids. They fail to realize that in the moment where they want their kid to follow the rules the drive to do whatever it is that the child wants to do might drive rules knowledge right out of their little brains.

A picture is worth 1000 words and kids remember what they see better than what they hear!

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Here are the guidelines for rules:
• Keep them few in number (I try to do no more than five)
• The rules apply to everyone in the house
• State them positively (they should tell you what to do instead of what not to do)
• They should cover about 85 to 90% of what might happen (imagine how great life would be if 85% of the time these rules were followed!)
TIP#2: MAKE A FAMILY MISSION STATEMENT
I got this from the book “The Secrets of Happy Families” by Bruce Feiler and I’ve used it with my family as well as families with whom I’ve worked. How often do families take stock of who they are and then discuss and write it down? Not very often. Having this discussion can really clarify moral and ethical beliefs of your family and negate assumptions and faulty beliefs.
Take a page from the corporate world and have a sit down meeting with everyone in the family. Discuss what you guys, as a family, are all about. What things are important to all of you? What traits define you? Write it up in two or three simple paragraphs.
Once that’s done, post it right next to the rules. Use this document as a teaching tool. Let’s say someone does something that isn’t captured in the rules? Refer to the mission statement and have a discussion as to how what happened did or did not fit in with the mission statement. Instead of a failure you get instant teaching moment.

TIP #3: MAKE A FAMILY MOTTO
This is related to tip #2. Distill the rules and the mission statement down into a simple family motto. For my family, when I did this, our motto became “We take in strays. No one is turned away.” This was based on the fact that we had fostered and adopted kids in the family and every single pet we owned was a rescue. It really summed up what we were about.

You can do these three things in a day or so. Once done, you can do things like tie reinforcement/reward strategies to them. You can know that with these things posted, you don’t have to keep repeating yourself…just point at the posters. This saves argument and aggravation. It decreases miscommunication and misunderstandings.  Besides, these activities can also be really fun.  It’ll help put everybody on the same page as to expectations and help everyone to feel more a part of things.
I hope you found these tips helpful. Please share in the comments section other exercises you have used to help increase your families’ happiness.
If you want to get access to more tips like this and worksheets to help do these exercises, consider joining my Super Parents Team. Go to www.erikyoungcounseling .com/superparent-team to sign up.
If you would like to work with me then call 484-693-0582 or go to www.erikyoungcounseling.com to schedule a consultation.
©Erik Young, M.Ed., LPC

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Stress Busters Part 1 – The Power of “Estar”

 

Stress Busters Part 1

The Power of “Estar”

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I.                   So, this one time in the emergency room…

About a year ago, I found myself in the emergency room with my daughter.  She was really ill…the last time this happened she ended up  hospitalized for the better part of three months (the year prior).  I could tell my daughter was really nervous…it was palpable.  Truth be told, I was equally scared.  It’s a terrible feeling when your kid is hurting and you can’t make it better.  All I could do was try to ease her anxiety.  I remember looking at her and saying “It’ll be ok.  This is just temporary.  We’ll get through this and be back on track befor you know it.”  It wasn’t exactly stirring speech I know, but it was pretty much all I had at the time.  After I said that, she looked at me, she smiled, and then she said the most remarkable thing.

“It’s ok Dad.  We’ll just use Estar from now on.”

Estar?  Huh?  What’s that?  That’s pretty much what I said to her.  She went on to explain that in the Spanish Language (did I mention my daughter has been taking Spanish classes since she was in Kindergarten and is very much in love with the language?) the verb “To Be” can be expressed in two different ways.  “Ser” which is for things that are permamanent and aren’t expected to change and “Estar” which refers to things that are going to and are expected to change.  As I never really studied Spanish (and posess a miserable facility for learning languages) this was a revelation to me.  What a marvelous concept…a language that has a verb to address things that are changeable!  What a help for situations like the one we were in….if we think of it as not changeable (Ser) then we’re stuck.  What’s the point of fighting on?  It’s not going to get better.  Sounds like the thought processes of somebody stuck in depression or overwhelmed by stress and anxiety.  On the otherhand, by labeling it as temporary (Estar) it has to change…get better….automatically, with this one linguistic shift, there is hope.  It’s optimism at it’s finest.  Also…props to my daughter…that was a fine bit of wisdom on her part.

The days and months that were to follow that moment in the emergency room were tough to say the least.  Crazy highs and lows.  Unexpected twists and turns.  However, no matter how tough things were…my daughter and I could look at each other and just say “Estar” and we’d feel better.  Over time, things DID get better.  Now, when we look back a year ago it seems a lifetime.  So much has changed, so much is better….but it was hard to see the way out back then.  We needed a little faith and we prompted that faith by remembering “Estar”.  By a little creative use of language, we’d found a great way to manage stress.

II.                 Everything is temporary

A.                Bad times end eventually

Everything is temporary.  Nothing lasts forever.  So, when you are going through hard times.  It helps to think “Estar.”  Eventually, the hard times will ease up and end.  Sadly, it is often very hard to see how things will change and get better.  In fact, the more your resources are consumed by stress the harder it is to see past one’s expectations.  It’s a weird kind of tunnel vision that makes it more likely for you to focus on all the stuff that is overwhelming you today.  It obscures and hides options.  This can lead to a feeling of helplessness that feeds hopelessness.  In short, it sucks.

So, by adopting this language of “Estar” you can remind yourself that everything is temporary.  Then, you can hold onto the idea that even though you might not be able to see a way out or see the end of the hard times….the hard times willI end.  Solutions will present themselves.  By adjusting your thinking slightly you can give yourself a little bit of positive energy and keep hope alive.  This energy can help you deal with those things in your bad situation that you can manage.

B.                 Good times don’t go on forever

So, if the bad times don’t last forever then it stands to reason the good times don’t last either.  “That’s terrible Erik!  Why would you bring me down like that?” I hear you say.  Well, it means that you need to cherish the good times when they are happening.  Don’t take them for granted.  No mater how small the positive moment may seem….enjoy it to its fullest.  When you are feeling bad, take time out to remember and savor the good moments.  In this way you cultivate happiness within yourself and inoculate yourself against negativity.  Use the good times while they last to buffer and prepare yourself for the hard times.

C.                 All you have is this moment (the art of Mindfulness)

To do that, practice mindfulness.  Simply put, be in the moment.  Don’t spend energy worrying about what may come (that’s just anxiety projected into the future where you can’t do anything about it) or staying stuck in the past (the past can’t be changed).  Be in the moment.  I will talk more about mindfulness and discuss some ways to practice it and use it manage stress in future articles.

III.              How to model/teach this to your children

For you parents out there, you can teach your kids how to think like “Estar.”  This is especially important for children on the spectrum or with ADHD who tend to be more ridged in their thinking and see situations as being more permanent than they really are.

A.                Talk it out

Talk to your kids.  When you notice they are getting stuck…tell them about and encourage them to see the temporariness of bad situations and to appreciate the good things when they have them.  Better yet, talk out loud about ways you might be using this for yourself in your life.

B.                 Act it out

Walk the walk,  Don’t just say it but do it.  When your kids see you doing the same things you tell them to do that means more to them. They are more likely to internalize things they experience than things that are seem more hypothetical.

C.                 Reward and praise it

Make a point of commenting on, praising and rewarding your child for their efforts to be mindful, appreciate the good things and accept the bad things as temporary.  Children really respond to things that they experience and then are rewarded for doing.

 

I hope this article has been helpful.  The way we use words influences the way we think.  Language and thinking style are your biggest assets in managing stress.  I would love to hear about ways you have used tricks like this to manage your stress.  Also, if you would like a stress consultation, please call (484-693-0582) or email (erik@erikyoungcounseling.com) to schedule an appointment.

 

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The Punishment Spiral (and how to get out of it)

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courtesy of freedigitalphoto.com

How it starts… a familiar story?

Your child does something you’ve told him not to do. In fact, you’ve him not to do this thing many times before.  Frustrated, you snap at your child “how many times do I have to tell you?!  Cut that out!!”  Maybe you ground them for a year… because time out and losing video game privileges hasn’t helped.  Maybe you start ranting like a crazy person about how the child is irresponsible, disrespectful, etc.  Maybe you even engage in corporal punishment with a spanking.  Then, you look at yourself and how you are acting.  You realize that should things go any further, there’s going to be a visit from child protective services in your near future.  Your kid is in all likelihood experiencing a full on meltdown by this stage.  You are too.  You feel helpless to get your child to listen and you don’t know what else to do.

Welcome to the punishment spiral.  As a parent, I’ve been there…. more than once.  In fact, it’s at this stage that many parents seek out my counseling services.  They’ve gotten stuck in a repeating cycle of punishing “bad behaviors”, the child getting “used” to the punishment, and then having to escalate the punishments to maintain their effectiveness.  The end result, like those Bugs Bunny cartoons where he and Marvin Martian get bigger and bigger weapons until they are ready to blow up the moon with their planet busting bombs, is that things get quickly out of control.  Thankfully, with a little knowledge and planning, this situation can be changed for the better.

Punishment vs reinforcement

First off, it’s important to note the difference between punishment and reinforcement.  From a technical point of view, punishment is anything that happens after a behavior that decreases the chances of seeing that behavior in the future.  Reinforcement is anything that happens after a behavior that increases the chances of seeing that behavior in the future.  Thus, for practical purposes, when you deliver a consequence with the goal of trying to get your child to stop or decrease a behavior you are technically punishing him.  This also means that your intent is less important than the outcome.  You might intend something to be reinforcing or but unless it increases the behavior it is not a reinforce.  Also, if it goes so far as to decrease a behavior, your reinforcer is actually a punisher.

Here’s the thing bout punishment.

  • It works, and it tends to work fast.
  •  It’s also the cultural norm in western society.

However, there is a cost to using punishers.

  • They tend to leave both the person delivering the punishment and the person receiving it feeling poorly.
  • Over use of punishers strains and damages relationships.
  • They only teach a child what not to do in a specific situation…. thus you need to punish every possible behavior that you don’t want to see if you go strictly with punishment as a consequence.
  • Punishment only works when the threat of punishment is imminent (the child knows they will get caught right then).
  •  Finally, kids tend to get used to punishment so they lose effectiveness over time.  This leads to the need to escalate punishments. Over time, this can quickly get out of hand, leading to a punishment spiral.

Personally, I tend to prefer using reinforcement strategies when I deliver consequences.

  • Reinforcers really teach your child what you want them to do and thus eliminate most other possible outcomes you don’t want to see.
  •  For example, I can punish my child every time he hits.  He might stop hitting, but he can kick,he can bite, etc.  If I teach my child to use gentle hands and feet or something along those lines…I’m focusing on rewarding the behavior I want to see and this basically gives no incentive to engage in all those other negative behaviors.
  •  Giving rewards ends to make the recipients feel more kindly and connected to you.
  • The downside with reinforcement strategies is that they often take a little bit longer and require a little more finesse.  You might have to teach a behavior or skill as you start to reinforce it.
  • You have to stop reinforcing the negative behaviors… and this might mean changing parenting tactics.

 

Also, a lot of parents often feel that reinforcement strategies look a lot like bribery.  The thing is, bribery is a money given to someone as an incentive to engage in illegal or illicit behavior.  It’s given BEFORE the behavior (so is not reinforcement) and I don’t know about you, but I’m not rewarding my kids for doing illegal and illicit things. Just keep the big picture in mind.  We want our kids to learn how to behave “properly.”  If a system of rewards will help them be motivated to behave, then that’s a good thing.  Over time, extrinsic rewards (money, toys, food, etc.) give way to intrinsic rewards (praise, doing it because it’s the right thing to do and it feels good) as the child grows and matures.

Break the cycle… Competency Based Parenting

What to do if you find yourself in a punishment spiral with your kids?  How do you get them to listen without killing a child?  First, take a deep breath.  Second, it’s simply time for a reset.  Look at the behavior and try to figure out what your child is getting from it.  Whatever that is, we need to provide that to your child, but only for displaying the behavior you want to see.  Once you’ve figured that out, you need to set the stage to elicit and reward those desired behaviors.

There are some assumptions that go along with this.

  • First, if your child is struggling with behaviors around certain items or activities (I often hear this in reference to computers and video games) then he is not competent or ready to handle the responsibility and privilege for access to that item or activity.  Access needs to be eliminated or cut back to something more manageable until your child has demonstrated the skills and competency to handle that situation.

 

  • The next assumption is that you, as a parent, have everything that the child wants and the child has absolutely nothing you want (thank you to Terry Levy and Michael Orlans for that concept!).  This means that everything you child takes as a given (video games, TV, etc..) is a privilege you ALLOW them.  That xbox isn’t your child’s…you paid for it.  You paid for the electricity to run it.  You pay for the wifi for it to connect to the internet.  When your child gets to play it… it’s because you are choosing to let them do it.

 

  • Your child should only have access to privileges that they have demonstrated the ability to manage.  So, if your child won’t do their chores because they are busy playing video games or get irritable or angry and act out around access to video games, then they are clearly not ready to handle the responsibility of video games.

 

So, to avoid going into a punishment spiral (which often starts with taking away “stuff” after kid acts out), we simply restrict access to activities to only those things the child can manage.  Give the child access to a limited number of activities and then as the child demonstrates responsible behavior over time (weeks and months… not hours and days), gradually add more privileges.

  • Add privileges slowly.  For example, don’t just give free access to the video games.  Maybe give them 10 minutes a day to a select few games (if they do their chores and get homework done).
  • Do not add privileges until you, as a parent, are dead certain your child will be able to manage it responsibly.
  • Don’t let your child guilt you with the “my friends get to do it” card. Your child is not his or her friends.
  • Your child will hate this at first, but will generally show improved behaviors very quickly under these boundaries.
  • By focusing on earning privileges for demonstrating positive behaviors and adding privileges slowly… you focus on looking for positive behaviors, rewarding instead of punishing, and you are teaching your child what to do (rather than what not to do).

I hope these tips help you live more harmoniously with your kids.  If you have further questions or would like to schedule a consultation, please feel free to contact me at erikyounglpc@verizon.net or call me at 484-693-0582.

Copyright 2014 Erik Young, M.Ed., LPC

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A Love Letter to my Autistic Boys

A Love Letter to my Autistic Boys

I remember when a colleague, a psychiatrist no less, asked me if  loved my autistic foster boys as much as my biological children.  When I said, “absolutely!” he looked at me skeptically and said “there’s no way…it’s got to be different.”  At that moment, two things happened, I lost a little respect for this guy and I KNEW deep into my soul that I loved you both with all my heart.

It’s a love that some people struggle to understand.  Some look at us and say “Erik, what you do for those boys…you’re a saint!”  I hate that.  I’m no saint.  Don’t put what we have up on some pedestal.  It’s just farther for us to fall.  I’m just being a Dad.  A Dad loves his kids. Kids love their Dad.  It really is that simple.  Nothing saintly about it.  Others just shake their heads and wonder why I would take on the stress and craziness that can come with parenting autistic boys.  Again, they just don’t get it.  Why WOULDN’T I?  Sure, it gets crazy…but is wonderful too.  Jeremy and his belly laughs and shares his secret smile. Julian with his hugs and giggle fits.  These are the gifts that make it all worth it.

As much as people say I’ve done for you boys…you’ve done so much more for me.  Every day you teach me.  Every day you help me to grow even as I help you.  When I look upon my success both personally and professionally, you two are very much at the heart of it.  I’m the luckiest Dad ever.

 

Happy Valentines Day Jeremy and Julian.

 

Love,

Your Dad

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