I never thought that I was a perfectionist growing up. The state of my room at any given point in time seemed to be an indication of my lack of perfectionism. As I grew older, however, I started wondering about it. At the same time, I also didn’t really know what it was. So, I continued on and forgot about it.
Fast forward to the present day, and again I’m wondering about it. Anyone close to me knows that I’m pretty particular about things, and often have a specific idea of how things need to be. If you visit our office, you’re likely to see some of that in action. As I worked on my car this morning, I noticed it creeping in. My fun car, a 1997 BMW M3, is now 22 years old. It has squeaks and rattles. It’s well maintained, but even so, if I’m working on the engine and I notice a sound that doesn’t seem quite right, it’s incredibly easy for me to obsess about it, rather than accepting that it’s a 22-year-old car that is going to have some strange sounds at times.
It even creeps into work. Shocking, I know. When we first started, we set out to fill gaps in services, particularly in counselling in Delta. The reasonable person would know that we were flying by the seat of our pants many times, trying things that didn’t work, and revamping again. Truth be told, as we’ve expanded and branched out far beyond counselling, we’re still figuring it out as we go along. I think this is actually a good thing because we’re trying to figure out how to help people in new, creative, and needed ways. It just doesn’t sit well with my perfectionism most of the time, and as I’m writing this, I also think this has a lot to do with the anxiety I often feel around work.
My counsellor and I were talking about this last week, and he gave me a really helpful handout on perfectionism that he’d come across, which you can read here. Addressing the full topic of perfectionism would take far longer than this blog post, so I want to give you some bullet points that I’ve noticed in my own life with perfectionism, and also what has helped me – and I hope that it helps you!
Three Signs That You Might Be A Perfectionist
You care deeply about everything, even things that really don’t matter much.
Don’t get me wrong, caring is a good thing. Particularly as a counsellor, caring is important! Here’s the thing though – we need to care about things at an appropriate level. The difficult part is knowing what that appropriate level is, especially if you’re a perfectionist.
You have unrealistically high standards, in almost everything you do.
High standards are a good thing. It’s something that I actually appreciate about myself, and usually, something people appreciate about me. The problem comes when our high standards become impossible One of my battles is that it is impossible for me to know about, account for, and control all of the details in a rapidly growing clinic. It was much easier when it was just me, Meg, and a couple others at the beginning. If it goes on for too long, it’s easy to get frustrated and just stop caring about anything, which doesn’t help either!
You have a difficult time with criticism.
I don’t know anyone that likes criticism and coupled with the fact that most people suck at giving constructive criticism, it’s a difficult thing for many people to handle. It’s very difficult for perfectionists because it flies in the face of their standards, their view of themselves, and their views of their accomplishments. How do you feel when someone offers constructive criticism? Does your body respond in revolt? Do you immediately go to justification and finding ways to fight back?
These are only three of the many signs of perfectionism you may notice in yourself if you’re indeed a perfectionist. If you’re interested in getting a quick sense of whether this might be a thing for you, you can try this screening tool as a way of finding out if perfectionism should be on your radar.
So, what if you are indeed a perfectionist? What do you do? Here are three things that help me keep my perfectionism in check, and I hope they’re helpful for you!
Three Ways To Combat Your Perfectionism
Question your level of care about things.
If you are caring about everything very deeply, then there’s something goofy in your meter. This one can be difficult, especially for something high on the emotional spectrum. Caring deeply about fellow human beings is a wonderful attribute, although it too needs to be kept in check. Caring deeply about whether the Kleenex boxes match the wall colour, or the specific noise your car is making is exactly as it should be when everything is running fine, or other such things may be an indication that your level of care is off.
One question I ask myself frequently is, “What is my level of care on this one, and is that reasonable?” I find this question to be especially helpful if my stress, or anxiety levels are high – because if they are, then that lovely limbic system is going to shut off our frontal lobes, which is the area of the brain that helps us determine reasonability.
Question your standards and expectations.
Working hard is a good thing. Being disciplined is also a good thing. Having no boundaries on either of these is not. It was pointed out to me when I did my Birkman assessment during my certification training that I will never expect anyone else to do something that I wouldn’t do myself. I’ve found this to be very true. The problem is, I expect extremely high standards from myself, and thus, it’s easy for me to pass all of those onto others. My own standards are often impossible to meet.
A question I use to keep myself in check on this one is, “If someone else were doing this, and it had nothing to do with me, would I think this standard was reasonable?” This integrates a little bit of the mindful self-compassion that Kristin Neff has developed and I find very helpful. We often expect things of ourselves that we would never expect from others. It also helps us give our brain a break, reduce anxiety, and increase the chance of having a reasonable perspective.
Have key people in your life whom you trust.
This is perhaps the most important of these three. I cannot overstate the value of key people who know you well, care about you, and are able to speak truth into your life, even when it’s hard. The trust part is key, because you’re going to have to trust that they’re doing it for your benefit, and it’s not because you’ve failed.
I’m fortunate to have a number of key people like this in my life who keep me in check. First and foremost is my wife, Meg. She knows me better than anyone else in the world, loves me despite my inadequacies, and also isn’t afraid to speak the truth to me when I need to hear it. I know that when she calls me out, she’s doing it for my own good, and I need that.
I also have my Registered Clinical Counsellor that I have a standing appointment with each month. I’ve been seeing the same counsellor since 2014, and I still remember our first appointment. I sat down and said to him, “Here’s how this works. I have impossible standards, I care deeply, and I don’t always have perspective. I need someone who isn’t afraid to call me out when I need it. If that isn’t you, that’s ok and I’ll thank you for your time. If it is, awesome, and we’ll get on famously.” He said he had no problem with that, and true to his word, he’s still supporting me, pushing me, and calling me out when I need it 5 years later.
Perfectionism can be a difficult thing to manage. It’s part personality, part anxiety, and wholly exhausting at times. I’ve been dealing with it for many years, but through some of the strategies above, and thanks in great part to some key people in my life, I have learned to manage it well, most of the time.
I know that my counsellor has played a key role in my ability to manage this part of myself. If you’re struggling with perfectionism and would like some help, we’re here. We’ve all got our stuff, and sometimes that outside perspective can be really helpful.
One of the questions I sometimes get asked is whether we do qEEG and linear neurofeedback here at Alongside You. Invariably, my answer is, “No, we use dynamic neurofeedback.” Understandably, people wonder why that is, so I thought I’d take a minute to explain why we use dynamic neurofeedback vs linear neurofeedback training. Before I continue, let me be very clear on one thing – both linear, and dynamic neurofeedback work, they are simply different approaches with different upsides and potential downsides. When we looked at our clinic and practice, the dynamic is what fit best for what we do.
A Very Brief History of Neurofeedback Training
Although many people still have not heard of neurofeedback, it has been around for decades, going back as far as the 1950s and 1960s and to research performed by Dr. Joseph Kamiya from the University of Chicago, and Dr. Barry Sterman at UCLA. Since then, there has been an amazing amount of research on, and development of neurofeedback with a wide variety of clinical applications.
The most well-known form of linear neurofeedback these days involves the use of qEEG brain imaging and mapping. From this, it is thought that diagnostics can be derived, and specific areas treated to relieve specific symptoms. Many people have used qEEG and the different linear neurofeedback protocols with great success. This method appeals to our rational brains as well, because it gives us an image, with a diagnosis, and a specific form of treatment based on protocols.
Why linear neurofeedback is both appealing and problematic
I’ll admit, this approach appeals to my scientific, rational brain that likes numbers, graphs, and black and white answers. The problem is, the science of linear neurofeedback isn’t, in my opinion, as black and white as it may appear. While linear neurofeedback favours training at specific sites, research suggests that at any given site on the scalp, sensors will pick up signals from across the brain, both from under the surface and across the scalp. The complexity of brain signalling cannot be overstated, and it may be problematic to assume that training at a certain site will affect all individuals with specific problems in the same way. This problem is made greater when we use DSM diagnoses to guide methods because they are defined by behavioural characteristics of individuals vs specific behaviours as defined by neurologists. There are also multiple subtypes of EEG with reference to DSM categories, including 11 subtypes of ADHD determined by Chabot (1996), for example.1
qEEG is still a helpful tool, and linear neurofeedback does work, it’s just not as black and white as it may appear. General groupings of EEG have been shown to correlate to specific DSM categories, but training based only on qEEG doesn’t guarantee results. Training at specific sites also does not necessarily permanently alter brain activity at that site, but it may in fact do so – we just don’t know and can’t predict that.1
Why dynamic neurofeedback is both appealing and problematic
Let’s be unconventional and start with the problematic part of dynamic neurofeedback – it’s not a specific treatment for a specific symptom. While I’ve briefly highlighted how this is not altogether completely different from linear neurofeedback, linear does have the ability to potentially be more specific to symptoms. So why do we do dynamic neurofeedback training then? What’s the upside? I’m glad you asked.
Dynamic neurofeedback is diagnostically agnostic What this means, is that the protocols do not depend on a specific, accurate diagnosis from the DSM. Dynamic neurofeedback trains the brain as it is, in its current state of being. It constantly evaluates the brain (at approximately 256 times per second) and bases the training on this evaluation, outside of diagnostic categories.
It trains the whole brain, not just part of it The downside is that we can’t specifically say we are treating a specific symptom. The upside is that we can say that we are training the entire brain to function at its best. Thus, anything we are experiencing as a negative symptom that is related to the brain not functioning at its best, we can hope to see improvements in. We can’t guarantee that we’ll see relief in specific areas, but as I’ve already mentioned above, qEEG and linear neurofeedback protocols can’t truly guarantee that either.
There is no chance of clinical error With linear neurofeedback, an evaluation of the brain is done, and a treatment protocol put in place based on the assumption that the brain is showing activity on a certain wavelength, and should be behaving differently. Thus, the brain is manipulated in a particular direction to produce the desired change. If the assumption is correct, we see positive results. If, however, the assumption is wrong, it can introduce negative results, side effects, etc. With dynamic neurofeedback, we don’t manipulate the brain. We present the brain with information about what it is doing in real-time and allow the brain to make the adjustment itself. From current research, we know that the brain is perfectly capable of changing itself and adjusting based on neuroplasticity (you may have heard of The Brain That Changes Itself). Dynamic neurofeedback works on this principle and provides the information the brain needs to make its adjustments. Thus, there is literally no chance of clinical error in this form of neurofeedback.
It helps us reach those who may not be able to access neurofeedback otherwise Because our type of neurofeedback and its protocols are housed within the software, it does not require the same level of training that most linear neurofeedback does. This allows us to be creative in how we deploy it in our clinic. As a Registered Clinical Counsellor, I do all the assessment work involved in tracking for in-clinic neurofeedback. We have trained technicians who run the in-between sessions to keep costs down. We are also able to offer rental units for people to do at home, which allows those who can’t get into the clinic to access it, and also further reduces the per-session costs. This aligns with our mission to provide the best care possible and fill in gaps in service.
I hope this helps explain some of why we use dynamic neurofeedback training in our clinic. It’s an approach that works, produces results, and fits us and our clients best. If you’re curious to know more, check out this page on our website with more explanation and answers to common questions. You can also read more on our blog here.
If you have further questions or want to give it a try, please contact us or give us a call. It’s an amazing technology that we can all benefit from (myself included!).
ADHD is one of the most prevalent psychiatric issues in our society. According to current Canadian statistics, a conservative estimate is that 4% of adults and 5% of children experience ADHD worldwide. It is also one of the most treatable conditions, and often medications can be very helpful. ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that primarily affects the frontal lobe of the brain and impacts executive functioning. What this means is that people suffering from ADHD often experience problems with attention, hyperactivity, decision making, mood regulation, and more.
We see it in children very frequently here at Alongside You. The challenge is that it’s often misdiagnosed, or mis-attributed. Kids with ADHD are often labeled the “bad kids,” or it is assumed that they’re just behaving badly, for no apparent reason. While I can understand this, we have to ask ourselves, “if we suffered from some, or all of the symptoms above, how would manage this in our lives?” The answer, I’m confident, would be a resounding, “not well.”
As I’ve already mentioned, ADHD is quite treatable most of the time, and most often it involves medications. What if the medications don’t work, or don’t work as well as it was hoped? What if the side-effects outweigh the benefits? What if you just don’t want to use medication? This is where neurofeedback training can help.
While medications can be a very helpful treatment, there can be problems, or there can be no effect. Neurofeedback training can be of help with ADHD in a few specific ways. Here are a few ways it can be beneficial.
Improving Executive Function
Executive function is a primary mechanism of our brains. It helps us with many things, including decision making, organizing, impulse control, and many others. ADHD can make these functions very difficult. Neurofeedback can help this is two primary ways. First, the training can help the brain optimize its inherent abilities. The training can help regain function in the frontal lobes, and also, can help optimize the function that is already there through strengthening existing neural connections, and creating new ones.
Second, neurofeedback training can help the limbic system calm down. Here’s why that’s important. The limbic system controls our fight or flight response. There is mounting evidence that limbic activity, particularly an overactive limbic system, is involved in particular forms of ADHD, and also in aspects of any form of ADHD. When our limbic system activates, its’ job is to keep us safe. Here’s the problem – it can’t tell the difference between anxiety, fear, or stress. Think of the kids you know with ADHD and how often you see these three things in their presence. When the limbic system activates and becomes highly engaged, it shuts off the frontal lobe. Lights out. What this means, is no more executive functioning.
Therefore, it stands to reason that if we can reduce the activity of the limbic system, it will help preserve executive functioning. Neurofeedback training can help the limbic system relax through training that area of the brain, and also through interacting with the central nervous system (CNS) and reducing activation.
Mood regulation, or the lack thereof, is often a part of the presentation of ADHD. Our brains are our bodies are integral in our emotion regulation and management. Through training the brain and the CNS, neurofeedback can help to optimize the emotion centres of the brain and relax the CNS. If our emotion centres are running optimally and our CNS is less stressed, our emotions stay more consistent and manageable.
Many individuals with ADHD have difficulty sleeping. One of the advantages of ADHD is that many folks with ADHD are very creative. The downside of this is that thoughts are many, and can run rampant. Bedtime is one of the quietest parts of our day and nothing is there to stop our thoughts from running free!
Neurofeedback can often help regulate our sleep patterns through brain training, CNS activity regulation, and reduction of stress and anxiety. If we do these things, and sleep improves, our overall stress level goes down, the brain runs more optimally, and our emotions stay more in control.
The brain is an amazing organ in our bodies, and central to all of our functioning. ADHD impacts the brain in many strange and wonderful ways. While treatment for ADHD should always be multimodal, neurofeedback training can be a very valuable tool for kids and for adults struggling with this condition.
If you’re interested in trying it, please contact us or give us a call. If you have any further questions, we’d be happy to answer them!
I was speaking with a friend on the phone a few weeks ago. She was curious about what I do as a Registered Clinical Counsellor and what happens in a session. As we continued to talk, I mentioned that I was going to see a counsellor myself. She gasped and said: “You have issues too?” I chuckled and said, “Yes, we all have issues, even counsellors.”
I mentioned to a few colleagues that I was going to see a counsellor and they encouraged me to write about my experience as a way to share with others and ultimately normalize going to seek professional help. As a counsellor myself, it is so important to understand the perspective of what it is like to be a client. This post will try and shed some light on my experience as a counsellor, and being a client.
I have been thinking about seeing a counsellor for a while now: over a year. However, it always seemed like it was never the right time. I was too busy, juggling different jobs, other commitments, financial constraints: all these things seemed to vie for my attention and appeared to be good reasons to once again push down counselling on the list of “things to do.” May I offer my perspective for a moment? There are always going to be things that seem more important and seem like they must take priority, yet, my mental health and overall well being should also be a priority. It is my deepest desire to be the best counsellor that I can be, to show up and be the right support for each of my clients. Therefore, I need to make myself a priority. I need to make the time to work on areas of my life that will ultimately help me in my career helping others. I struggle with the idea that this sounds selfish, but as the old airplane analogy goes, I need to put on my oxygen mask first before I help others with their masks.
So, I put on my mask, so to speak, and made my first appointment. I left a message. I was brief and gave my contact information. Julie (this is not her real name) called me back promptly and we set up a time to meet in 2 weeks time. I had done it. I was proud of this first initial step. I filled out the intake form, sharing contact information and reasons for counselling. It was personal. I was reminded of the initial vulnerability that all clients must experience as they complete the forms; from a counselling perspective, it is crucial for liability and legality sake, yet there is also a piece that asks the client to try to put into words the areas they want to work on. In my experience, this process allowed me to think about the areas that I wanted to concentrate on and helped organize some of my thoughts a bit more.
Seemingly small, making that first phone call was the first step towards reaching out and asking for help, acknowledging the importance of having someone to listen to my story. As I tell all my clients on our first meeting, coming for counselling is brave. It is trusting a stranger with pieces of your story and there I was asking for a stranger to listen to mine. The tables have been turned, or perhaps another way, this time I get to sit on the couch instead of the armchair.
The day arrived. I saw some clients of my own. As the day progressed, I continued to check in with myself and see how I was feeling. My stomach felt a bit “off.” I named this feeling and voiced that I was nervous. This seemed like a natural reaction to me as I was preparing to meet with Julie. I left myself enough leeway in my schedule to arrive on time, as I tend to be late and did not want to arrive flustered.
Disclaimer: It is May, and I still have my snow tires on my car. Again, this is something that is on the “to do list,” not really a priority, but important nonetheless. Sometimes, there is a misconception about counsellors that they have it all together and have reached new levels of perfection. May I say, this is not the case. At. All. I share this with you, because as I sat in my car waiting to go into the office, I saw Julie getting out of her car, and to my delight, she too had her snow tires on. At that moment, I felt a sense of connection and validation that counsellors are people too, people that care deeply, they are human just like everyone else and perhaps have left car maintenance slide a bit as well.
I got myself comfortable on the couch, Julie has a few couches in her office, and so she chose the couch opposite to where I was sitting. She went over the limits to confidentiality and said that although I was a counsellor myself, she would treat me like any other client. I appreciated that. She mentioned that as she asked me questions if there was anything that I did not want to answer, then that was fine; in addition, if there was something that I wanted to talk about more in-depth for another session, I was free to do that as well.
Julie explained the importance of finding the right fit with a counsellor. This is so important. Just like in life, you are not going to click with everyone. Sometimes I like finding a counsellor to that of eating ice cream. There are many flavours and while some folks might enjoy more daring flavours of Bubblegum, Tiger or Moose Tracks, others enjoy the classic Vanilla, Neapolitan and Chocolate Chip Mint. It is a preference, and like ice cream, finding the right fit is crucial in a relationship with a Registered Clinical Counsellor.
My first session was basically me providing background. I gave a brief summary of what my childhood was like and highlighted some major events that have happened throughout my life. My counsellor listened intently, she provided encouraging nods and asked questions when more insight or clarification was needed. Her approach was gentle and genuine. As I shared about a situation that is particularly meaningful to me, I started to cry. I am not saying that crying in mandatory in counselling sessions, but as I share with my clients, “tears are welcome,” while ensuring a box of tissues is close by. When I cried, my counsellor sat with me. She shared the space. She acknowledged this was important to me and therefore she took the time to understand it more from my perspective. This was a beautiful gift for me to receive from her. It validated my experience and allowed me to know that she understood the importance for me.
At the end of the session, I felt like I was in a bit of a fog. Sometimes I have referred to this with my own clients as a “vulnerability hangover.” It is the sense of having shared meaningful information with someone and trusting them enough to hold the information. Did I share too much? Not enough? My life cannot be condensed to 50 minutes. Nor can the lives of the clients that I see. Counselling takes time to unpack, learn and discover. As I tell my clients, after my own session, I took some time to breathe and think and be calm. I booked another session to see Julie again in 2 weeks.
In summary, the session went well. I felt safe, heard and validated. For me, this is a sign of a positive therapeutic rapport. Moving forward, I anticipate more tears, more questions, more wrestling with the reasons why I do the things I do; but I know that what I learn and discover as a client will help me tremendously as a Registered Clinical Counsellor. My second session with Julie is in a few days. I am excited to see her again and see where the conversation takes us. And I must say, I still have my snow tires on my car. Perhaps I will have them taken off before my third counselling session, and maybe Julie will too?
If you have been thinking about going to counselling, can I give you that little nudge and say to do it? Find a Registered Clinical Counsellor who is a good fit for you. Can I be so bold as to suggest looking at Alongside You to find a one? Like ice cream, we have some daring counsellors as well as classics and everything in between. There is no shame to ask for help. There are counsellors who want to help. Put on your oxygen mask. Be Brave. Contact Us.
Spring is in full swing and one of my favourite things about this season is the fresh, local produce that is available here in Ladner.
I am so excited to announce that Alongside You will be collaborating with Danielle and Alicia from Backroads Family Farm Market for some exciting things this summer.
To kick this off, I asked Danielle and Alicia some questions. So here is a little snapshot of the market itself and the ladies behind this beautiful place.
1. What variety of crops do you grow?
We farm on the one acre behind our store and we grow multiple colours of cauliflower, green and purple Brussel sprouts, corn, kale, rainbow swiss chard, field cucumber, yellow and green zucchini, artichokes, multiple varieties of pumpkins, gourds, ornamental corn, sunflowers, dahlias, gladiolas, peonies, eucalyptus, farm fresh eggs from our own chickens, basil, cilantro, rosemary, sage, mint, thyme, chives, beets, and garlic…. I think that covers it!
2. What variety of crops do you get from other farmers?
We source many fresh berries, tree fruit (Okanagan), and assortments of other local vegetables that we do not grow. (It’s really a lot to list out!)
3. How do you source for the crops from other farmers?
We have built long-standing relationships with local farmers since we were teenagers. We call directly to farmers as there is no need for a ‘middle man’ when these relationships have been formed. That sets us apart from grocery stores.
4. What’s one thing you love most about farming?
Coming from a 5th generation farming family, we are deeply rooted here in Delta and passionate about our farming community. We love watching the process from planting to harvest and that every day is different. We love connecting the community to fresh local produce and educating people the best we can about why supporting local is so important and what is really grown in Delta’s backyard. We get to be creative in our business and really choose what we directly support and what we get to promote. We also love that it is a family effort.
5. What are you both most excited about this coming season?
We are excited about planting more of our own crops in the field behind the store! We also always look forward to our new employees. We love hiring all local students!
6. What’s one thing you both want people to know about Backroads Family Farm Market?
When you shop at Backroads, you are getting quality produce that is locally grown. If not by us, it is sourced locally from other local farmers. We are proud of local farmers who advocate for women in agriculture and the future of farming in our community. We love our connection to our community and enjoy working with many different businesses.
Officially Open For The Season
Backroads Family Farm Market is officially open now so you can your hands on fresh produce daily. For the produce, you can expect this upcoming season,check out their handy list here. Stay tuned here for more exciting news about this collaboration!
If you’re looking for new ways to turn these vegetables into simple, real meals, I can help! Contact our office for more information.
I remember when I found music. It was on an old church piano sometime before the age of 6. I grew up around music, both listening to it, and also as a part of my culture. There’s an old joke that Mennonite folk are born signing four-part harmony. The funny part is that it’s not so far from the truth. I remember how it felt to hear notes, and how it felt to play them. I remember how there was so much going on inside of me that I couldn’t figure out how to get out of my head and out of my heart – except through those old piano keys.
Recently, American Idol crowned its newest winner, Laine Hardy. While Laine is certainly a talented guy, I’ve been fascinated by one of the other contestants throughout the entire season this year. He is a meek, quiet guy, who is an immensely talented musician. He hasn’t said much about his history, but you can tell he’s been through some stuff. He has said that he hasn’t had much support in his life, and that’s part of what has made the support of fans so overwhelming for him – and you can tell that it is overwhelming when you watch him on the screen.
The contestant’s name is Alejandro Aranda, or as many know him, simply “Homie.” He said something during one of the videos they played on the final episode that stuck with me. He said, and I paraphrase, that kids need to be encouraged to find themselves in music and express their emotions. It got me thinking about how my life may have turned out if I hadn’t found music. From the little I know about this contestant’s life, I can’t imagine where he would be without music. It’s clear that a key to his resilience, and certainly mine, has been music.
What Is Resilience?
The answer to this question could be multiple posts long, but for our purposes, I want to define resilience this way:
Resilience isn’t finding the perfect balance and constantly withstanding what life throws at you; resilience is finding a way to thrive in the midst of challenges, knowing that your thriving will sometimes be messy. It is finding your way in life, using the unique gifts you’ve been given, to forge a path and a way forward despite the difficulties.
For me this has been using music to be mindful, to prove that I can challenge myself, to express emotions that defy the words that I can produce through the English language, and to find a way to use my own challenges to make something that encourages others and brings us closer together.
What Is Celebrating Resilience?
Celebrating Resilience is a partnership between our good friend Radina of Radina Photography and our own social venture, Alongside You. Celebrating Resilience is a gallery showing to highlight the resilience in our local community and encourage others who may be struggling. The exhibit will showcase 9 portraits and stories of recovery and resilience in the areas of mental health, chronic illness, abusive relationships, and more. You can read more of Radina’s story and how she came up with the exhibit idea here. What is so great about this project is it gives a platform for people to have a voice in their resilience, to tell their story, and to do good in the community at the same time.
We are using the show to raise funds for our Step Forward Program here at Alongside You that subsidizes our services for people who need financial assistance. We’re hoping to raise $15,000 toward services for the community.
Join Us For Celebrating Resilience
We would love for you to join us on June 1, 2019, from 6:30pm-9:30pm at Stir Coffee House to see the images and stories of resilience in our community. Come, and be encouraged by those who have gone through it. Find common ground in the community, and perhaps find the courage to share your own journey.
After the opening, the images and stories will remain at Stir Coffee House for some time; after this, they will be distributed in the community through local businesses and organizations for a second showing.
Click here to let us know you’re coming on our Facebook event, and share with your friends!
Our Thank You To Our Supporters
This project, and show could not take place without support. We have brought on corporate sponsors, and we are looking for private sponsors to continue the project, and to continue the work we do through the Step Forward Program. If you’d like to sponsor as an individual, please click here where you can submit a sponsorship through our website – please put “Celebrating Resilience” in the dedication box. If you’re a business and want to sponsor, please contact Andrew through email by clicking here.
Our sponsors are incredible. Without their generosity, this project would not happen. Please see below for our corporate partners, and we look forward to seeing you on June 1st!
When I first heard the term, “Dialectical Behaviour Therapy” the concept of it completely went over my head and had me silently swearing that I was never having anything to do with this form of therapy. Chances are, I am not the only one who feels intimidated by this complex approach. I can definitely empathize with anyone for feeling uncertain or overwhelmed by this theory because there’s certainly a lot to it. If you’re curious about DBT and want to learn more about it, then this post is for you!
The goal of DBT is to learn new skills and techniques to transform negative thinking and unhelpful behaviours into positive outcomes.1,2 This approach started out specifically for those with chronic and severe suicidal ideation and suicide attempts, and later for those living with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), but has shown to be useful for individuals who struggle with lower thresholds of self-harming, eating disorders, substance abuse, major depression, and more.3
What is a Dialectic?
Let’s tackle the first part of DBT – the dialectic. In reference to counselling, a dialectic is finding a balance between two opposites. It’s the understanding that two ideas can be correct at the same time, letting go of black and white thinking, and understanding that there’s no universal truth.4 A real-life example of finding a dialectic would be having to opposing thoughts such as: “I can trust everyone,” or, “Nobody can be trusted,” which then the dialectic would be finding that sweet spot in the middle which would be, “I can trust some people, but not everyone I know,” and coming to terms with the fact that those two opposing beliefs, trust and distrust, can exist at the same time.4
In DBT, we encourage clients to ask themselves, “What is missing from my understanding?” instead of accepting a final answer or conclusion. This is a way of expanding our perceptions of things and understanding and validating another person’s perspective.4
What is the Behaviour part of DBT?
The behaviour part of DBT includes learning practical skills and helpful behaviours and letting go of the actions that interfere with our quality of life and personal wellbeing. There are four main modules that are covered in DBT to teach these skills:
Interpersonal Effectiveness: this module includes being able to ask for what we need, reach our goals, and to cope with difficult interactions or conflicts.
Distress Tolerance: this module builds the ability to notice situations that evoke a negative emotional response and to be able to see the impact it has on us. The purpose of this is to be able to make rational decisions about how we want to proceed.
Emotion Regulation: this module encourages noticing our emotional experiences, but not letting the emotion completely take over. Clients learn to use self-soothing techniques to cope with the strong feelings and develop the skills to act mindfully and intentionally while experiencing emotions.
Mindfulness: this module teaches us how to accept and cope with powerful emotions and to be able to notice the present moment we are experiencing, along with the emotions and sensations that come with it with a non-judgmental mindset.
What is the Therapy part of DBT?
DBT is implemented through a variety of ways, such as skills training group and individual therapy. The group is typically 6-12 months long and is meant to introduce us to skills that are intended to improve our coping and ability to manage powerful feelings. The individual sessions focus on increasing our motivation and skill application. Individual DBT sessions give us a chance to work towards our personal goals and to apply our skills in our day-to-day life.
I hope that this article helps you understand a bit more about DBT. It’s certainly been a big learning curve for me, and I’ve come to appreciate the complexity of issues it’s able to address. While it can still be daunting at times, the beauty of DBT is that it can be broken down into bite-sized, practical skills and steps that help us move forward.
If you think DBT could be helpful to you, or you just have some more questions about it, please feel free to give us a call, we’d love to hear from you!
15 years ago, I had an opportunity to work at a summer camp for children with special needs. I was scared. I was nervous. I did not know what to expect. The result was a life changing 2 months that has completely changed the trajectory of my career path and ultimately my life. I sometimes like my experience to that of the Grinch in that I too felt my heart grow 3 sizes that summer.
Since then, I have been a support worker helping individuals with diverse abilities in their homes and the community. I worked as an Educational Assistant in the school system, helped co-lead a summer camp for teens with Autism, worked as a social skills worker, coordinator for a pre-employment skills program for young adults with Autism and finally, I am a Registered Clinical Counsellor. I specialize in working with individuals with Autism and their families. This has been a long journey, but such a rewarding one.
Last year, I was chosen to give a presentation to fellow professionals. I had one and a half hours to fill. I wanted to speak about something I was passionate about. Easily, I narrowed my focus down to Autism, however, I did not want to speak of facts and figures, I wanted to concentrate on the individual. From this idea, the title “What I really wish you knew” was borne. I interviewed 5 individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and asked them a series of questions with the intention of hearing what they really wish the world knew about them. I used my place of privilege to let their voices be heard. It was an incredibly powerful and humbling experience for me.
My hope for this article is to highlight the information I was given, and share it with a wider audience. Before I delve in, I would like to once again thank the individuals for sharing their stories and experiences with me. Without their bravery and voice, I would not have anything to share. I would also like to acknowledge that ASD is a spectrum and there are varying and different experiences; these are merely the experiences of the individuals I interviewed.
The first thing I would like to address is that of language, often there is some discomfort when trying to know how to address a person on the Autism spectrum. I acknowledged this right away with each of the individuals I spoke with and ask them for their preference. The answers were as varied as the individuals:
Person First language, the person before the diagnosis
______________ has Autism
I don’t love being called Autistic
Neurotypical refers to someone without ASD
“ ‘Neuro Diverse’ drives me batty. If I am different from you and you are different than me, then why are we not both referred to as ‘neurodiverse’ “?
I refer to myself as an ‘Aspie’
I am a person with Asperger’s, but I don’t introduce myself to others as someone with Asperger’s right away.
Being on the spectrum, a person on the spectrum
How Do You Define Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)?
My first question was to ask each individual, “What ASD means to them?” Their responses highlighted the unique perspective of each person:
“It is hard to describe, cause I never thought about it, it is something I have to live with.”
Sense of pride
“Autism means ‘just being you.’ I am unique in my own right. We have gifts as well.”
Sense of indifference
“Honestly, it doesn’t mean anything to me. It is a scientific title given to a different way of thinking that helps people who don’t think that way understand it. I have no personal attachment to it. It is thing that exists and I have it.”
A different way of thinking
“I think differently and have a different perspective on life; when people have a problem, they don’t see a different solution. When I look at that problem, I can see a different solution.”
Still more to learn
“I don’t think that anyone has a good idea of what ASD really is; I don’t think any of us really know enough.”
I asked one of the individuals about having a label as someone on the Autism spectrum. They replied, “Labels are not necessarily there to hurt, labels are there to help and let others know what they are dealing with. If you walked into a store and saw a jar of peanut butter without a label on it without ever seeing a jar of peanut butter, you would be like, ‘Ewww, what is that gross brown stuff?’ But, if you walk into a store and see a jar of peanut butter with a label on it, you will know what you are getting; you will think, ‘Oh butter with peanuts in it…I think I will try it.’ Labels help you know how to help the other person.”
How Do You See Yourself As An Individual With ASD?
Keeping in mind the label of ASD and what ASD means to the individuals, I asked, “How do you view yourself?”
As a person
“I view myself as an ordinary person, to be honest sometimes I am paranoid, but mostly I am a normal person.”
“I view myself as an individual. I am a young person with ASD, without it, I would think differently, but I don’t know how it would affect me. It influences me, it doesn’t define who I am. It affects the way I interact with others.”
“I am speaking on behalf of others and making this world a more inclusive and diverse society. I want to take out the word ‘normal’ and use ‘diverse.’”
The Challenges of Living With Autism
Changing direction, I asked the individuals, “What are some of the challenges of living with ASD?”
The list was long and varied:
Communication and the complexities of text
Not understanding boundaries in friendships (Ex. How much can I call/text you)
Focusing on things too much
Getting stressed too much
Not being able to sleep
Experiencing sensory overload
Perseverating on what I did that was “socially awkward”
Social barriers at work, interacting with co-workers, feeling left out and not part of the team
“Anxiety gets in the way, it prevents me from leaving the house.”
Alternately, I then asked, “What are some of the strengths of living with ASD?”
Again, the list was long and diverse.
Observant, I notice things around me
Good at logic
Following the rules
Being a voice for others with ASD
Attention to detail
One individual poignantly expressed: “I don’t think I have strengths solely because of my Autism, my strengths come from me as a person and how I was raised in an open-minded and accepting environment from my mom. I have always been taught to trust in instincts and think for myself.”
Advice for Parents of Children with ASD
These individuals are experts of their own experience and have much wisdom to share. I was curious to know what advice they had for parents who are currently raising children with ASD. Their answers were filled with humour and knowledge.
“The most important thing is to cultivate an environment where the children do not have to feel ashamed of themselves, and something they cannot control.”
“Don’t try to push your point of view on them, let them think for themselves. It is useful to let things take their course, and for the child to figure things out for themselves and form their own opinions.”
Implement this for the first 18 years of your child’s life. Have a buddy to walk with you who is a few years ahead and can help teach and guide.
Don’t worry about eye contact so much
“Lack of eye contact is not the end of the world. They understand what you are saying and are paying attention even if they are not looking at you. For me, eye contact seems forced, it feels uncomfortable and not normal. I give eye contact depending on the conversation and how vulnerable I have to be. Often I am looking past your head or at your hat, not directly looking at your eyes.”
Parents need a team; they need networking and connections. “Remember to choose your battles with ASD, geeze, you are going to have a lot of battles.”
Use technology as a tool
Technology can be used for communication and for connection
How to Connect with Individuals with ASD
As a counsellor, I was curious to learn how I could become a better counsellor for individuals with ASD. However, I believe that the answers are applicable to a wider audience as well. I was both humbled and motivated by the responses.
“Be as genuine as you can be: people with ASD can tell when you are lying.”
“Make it clear you want to help and that you care, just because you cannot see my feelings, doesn’t mean you cannot hurt them.”
“Don’t assume you know what I need. Give me wait time to formulate on my own. I have more brain cells than you do, give me time. You cannot expect to see progress every day.”
Don’t try to ‘match make’ friendships!
“We don’t necessarily want to meet others with ASD, they can be annoying. We don’t necessarily want another special needs friend, because sometimes people with special needs don’t have the same special needs as you and you don’t always get challenged.”
Try using ‘invitational’ questions:
What would it be like if…?
What do you think would happen if…?
Trust must be earned!
“I have a lack of desire to express my emotions due to fear of being judged. With ASD, trust is earned, it is difficult to earn and easy to lose. We think differently, we don’t automatically think of family and friends to be trustworthy. You need to prove that you can be trustworthy.”
How To Advocate For Individuals On the Autism Spectrum
Not only did I want to focus on helping professionals, but I also wanted to hear how everyone can become better advocates for individuals with ASD. The answers spoke of inclusion, acceptance and belonging.
“Don’t use ASD as an insult…Don’t think less of us because we have Autism. Teach kids with ASD to accept themselves, and teach kids without ASD to accept everyone.”
“Stigma is damaging!”
It is about relationship and connection
“Talk to us, not about us, just like everyone else. Talk to our family and friends.”
“Any success is about relationship. Rapport is key. Getting to know someone and building that trust over time. We can best be reached through our interests.”
“Ask the individuals themselves how they want to be advocated for. We each have a personal preference of how we want to be advocated for.”
Remember each person’s uniqueness
“No 2 people with ASD are the same. Everyone without ASD is not the same, so too are people with ASD not the same.”
“Take time to listen to them because they have so much insight even though they think differently than you.”
What They Really Wish You Knew
Lastly, I posed the question that was the title for my presentation: “What I really wish you knew.” The final words were theirs, and their answers showed the humanity we all share.
I am paying attention
“Sometimes it seems like people with ASD are not paying attention, not looking at you, but believe me, they are! We are listening to everything! If every spy in the world had ASD, that would be pretty dangerous!”
I want real friendship
“I wish I was told in school that there are differences between friends and acquaintances. When a relationship is forced, they are acquaintances but if it is genuine, then it is a friendship.”
I am doing the best that I can
“Autism is not an excuse for poor behaviour. We can’t hold ourselves to the standard of ‘normal’ people, but we can hold ourselves to the same moral standard. We can’t use ASD as a crutch. We need to take responsibility for your actions.”
Again, I want to thank the individuals for sharing their voices and experiences with me. It is my hope that their words help foster change, acceptance, and inclusion for everyone. It is my desire that we continue to celebrate diversity and acknowledge the ways that everyone is unique and has the right to love and belonging.
It is my desire to be able to walk alongside individuals, couples, families, and supports of individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) as they go through life in the various stages. If you’re impacted by ASD, I’d love to spend some time with you walking your journey. You have so much to offer, and I’d be honoured to be a part of it.
Writing these blog posts is one of the easiest parts of my job to put off until later. They require some unstructured thinking time (which is fertile ground for distraction), are unstructured themselves, and there always feels like there is something more important (read: easier and less personally exposing) I could be doing with that time.
Recently I read a fantastic article in the New York Times on exactly the process I’m describing. Most people call it procrastination. I really, really think you should read the article now because if you’re reading this one already, chances are you’re putting something else off.
If you don’t feel like doing that, the basic idea is that mainstream science has come to embrace an idea that makes intuitive sense to many of us: procrastination has much less to do with laziness, lack of self-control, and disorganization, and much more to do with emotions. For example, it is often the case that the task at hand will bring up a disquieting uncomfortable feeling that we often barely notice. Therefore, procrastination is about protection: we keep ourselves safe from feeling (for example) our own self-doubt or shame by doing something unrelated, whether it is productive or not. This has the effect of a short-term boost in good feelings (TV is fun!) but is often counterproductive in the long term. For example, these blog posts give me some anxiety, because I never know who is reading them and what I might be sending into the public eye that might not be good enough, or that I might even end up disagreeing with myself a year from now. So I often find something else to do.
Along these same lines, there is a much more complex system of underworkings at play in our decisions than we think. We in the mental health field love to talk about the brain (how its fear center causes us to react in response to stress, for example), but according to good recent research, there are mini “brains” around areas such as our heart and gut that make them function as powerfully as our heads at times. Daniel Siegel is a big proponent of this, and you can also read more about this at Heart Math here.
To return to the article (here’s a link to it again!), it encourages self-compassion, which we counsellors also love. Having grace and compassion for our own mistakes is one of the best tools out there. The article offers three other, very simple tips for when you find yourself the victim of procrastination:
Be curious. Take a breath and allow physical sensations, emotions, and mental processes to come and go, observing them like you were watching a new TV show. Notice what happens to the sensations, feelings and thoughts as you observe them. What are the feelings that might be bringing up unpleasant feelings?
Hypothetically imagine the next step: “If I were the version of myself that wasn’t procrastinating right now, what would be the next thing I would do?” Just thinking about this might make you more likely to take action despite your feelings. Many pros agree that motivation often comes while doing something, and not before, so you might need to kickstart things a touch.
Make temptations more inconvenient. Hide the TV remote, put a screen time blocker on your phone, etc., etc. This also increases the timeframe for you to become aware of what’s going on, and makes your reward for procrastinating less immediate.
I would add a few of my own tips as well:
When you feel temptations arise, take a deep breath and allow yourself to be tempted, noticing the temptation to do something gratifying at the moment. This is called many names, but I learned the name urge surfing: you are riding the wave of your temptation and letting it run its course without trying to push it away or make it less intense. This fits really well with tip #1 from the article (Be curious!). Often, the urge will go away in 10-12 minutes, if not much less.
If you must, try to give yourself more productive ways to procrastinate. For me, I take a few minutes and stretch. This often makes me feel a little better about myself physically, mentally, and emotionally, and makes me feel better equipped to take on the original task. You might also choose to journal about your inner experiences at the moment, which will help you understand and articulate them (this removes some of the power those impulses have).
Building on #2, you could also call a trusted friend and chat about the fact that you’re putting something off. This will help in a number of ways. It will give you a sounding board for your thoughts and feelings, normalize your experiences, and make you feel generally supported (little motivates us as well as reminding ourselves of our supportive relationships).
Lastly (as I say with most of these articles), you can always feel free to talk to a professional helper, as they are often equipped with specific skill sets that can help you tackle something like the above, or help get you in position to tackle it. These include professional counsellors like us at Alongside You, but can also be something like a pastor, priest, social worker, or support group. Investing time in caring for yourself the right way has the best interest rate of any investment (by a huge margin). If you have questions about this process, please call our office, and you can even email me directly through my profile by clicking here – I will take the time to respond as best and as soon as I can.
Good luck, and now that I’ve written this, I’m off to do something fun.
The Stress-Response Cycle: How to Move Through Stress
To follow up on my last post, it’s time to get practical! Whatdo we do with stress? We’re often told to reduce our stress by taking on fewer responsibilities when we’re feeling overwhelmed. That certainly can help, but what’s more important is to learn to move through the stress response cycle so that when we are faced with stressors our bodies have the capacity to handle them. This requires learning to listen to our bodies and our emotions.
Don’t Confuse the Stressor with the Stress
A stressor is something that causes stress, such as a semester of school. Stress is that feeling of fight, flight or freeze. Often, we believe that we’ll feel less stressed once we’ve dealt with the stressor. I often tell myself that when the next term at school is over, I’ll feel energized and happy again. Then, the end of term comes and after a week I notice I’m still feeling exhausted and irritable. This is because I was confusing the stressor with the stress. The stressor may be long gone and successfully conquered, but the reason I still feel irritable and exhausted is that my body hasn’t moved through the stress response cycle and come out the other side.1 Can you relate? Let me explain.
Stress-Response Cycle: Listening to our Bodies
Our body’s natural tendency in times of stress is to move through the beginning, middle and end of our response to stress. When we are in fight, flight or freeze, a lot of adrenaline is pumping through our bodies. Our body’s natural tendency is to find a way to expend that energy. With fight, it would be throwing punches, flight would be to run, and even in freeze, our natural tendency when we come out of freeze is to shake. Once we’ve expended that energy, our natural tendency is to find safety and to rest. This is the full cycle: trigger (beginning); energy expending (middle); safety and rest (end).1
Unfortunately, in our culture we’ve been taught to suppress the messages we get from our bodies. Our culture is uncomfortable with feelings and so we’re told to suck it up; we’re told that everyone is stressed and that’s just what life is. We override our body’s messages because they’re not always compatible with work or with the social context at hand. When we keep overriding the messages our bodies send us, our bodies become stuck in a state of stress. When we never feel like we can escape the feeling of stress, we start to cope in ways that are less healthy, such as developing addictions or lashing out at people when we don’t mean to. This is because there’s so much pent up energy and it hasn’t had a chance to move through us.1
How to Complete the Cycle
We probably don’t want to be fighting people when we’re stuck in traffic or running out of our cars after a car veers into our lane. Thankfully, there are more practical ways to complete the stress-response cycle.
The Middle Part of the Cycle: (The part where you let the energy out)
Physical activity: This helps to re-calibrate the nervous system. It lets your body complete the middle part of the cycle and expend all of that adrenaline that was secreted from the various stress-related triggers in your life. Any kind of physical activity will do, as long as it gets you moving and gets your heart-rate up.
Allow yourself to have a good cry or a primal scream. The kind of cry where you sob for 10 minutes and then have a big sigh of relief. This lets the emotion move through you instead of getting trapped in your body.
Journaling: Writing your thoughts down can sometimes offer a feeling of release and relief. You can keep an ongoing journal of your thoughts and feelings and/or you can write them down and then rip them up. The act of ripping up the pages can also be relieving.
Art: Finding creative ways to express emotion and dispel stress. You might think you’re not particularly artsy, so maybe you want to try coming to something like our Open Studio Sessions to start where you can get some gentle guidance and try some new things out?
The End of the Cycle: (The part where you rest)
Seeking affection from someone you trust. This is proven to be a very effective way to calm the nervous system.
Identify people and places that you can trust to provide space for you to feel your feels.
Sleep: Do what you can to prioritize it, and seek help from a doctor and/or counsellor when you’re having consistent trouble sleeping.
Grooming: For some, it can be meditative and give a feeling of self-care.
Engaging in anything you find
Throughout the Cycle:
Mindfulness: Start cultivating a mindfulness practice, even if you start out with just one minute per day.
Mindfulness allows us to notice what we’re focusing on, notice what we’re feeling and then have control in deciding what we want to focus on and how we want to express that feeling.
Headspace is an app that offers a free mindfulness series to get you started, and the app allows you to start with mindfulness exercises as short, or as long as you want.
Counselling: A counsellor can help you learn to move through your stress response cycle in a way that feels right for you. They can also help you to make sense of stress responses and emotions that feel confusing and stuck.
Remember, this can be very difficult, especially if you’ve grown up in a culture that teaches you to suppress your feelings and your body’s signals.
The most important part of moving through the stress response cycle is to be patient and kind to yourself. You’re learning something new, it takes time and you don’t need to do it alone.
Nagoski, E. (2015). Come as you are: The surprising new science that will transform your sex life. Simon & Schuster: New York, NY
Van Der Kolk, B. (2015). The body keeps the score: Brain, mind, and body in the healing of trauma. Penguin Books: New York, NY