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Ashley Solomon, Psy.D is a psychologist who specializes in the treatment of eating disorders, body image, trauma, and serious mental illness.

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09 Jan

When Alzheimer’s comes early: The importance of caregiver self-care

Current Events 2 Comments by Ashley @ Nourishing the Soul

caregivers

{image via pinterest}

New motherhood has caused me my fair share of forgotten names and misplaced items. The other day I couldn’t remember what letter of the alphabet came after “r” while singing it to my son. It was frightening moment, but laughable enough to share with friends while lamenting how little sleep I’d gotten that week.

Because memory problems can be caused by a myriad of issues — anything from insomnia to stress to depression to eating disorders — when they show up in the average adult, their doctors frequently write them off. They tell their patients to work on slowing down, getting more rest, maybe make a list if you can’t remember what prompted the trip to the grocery store. All good advice, unless there is something more dire at play.

Early-onset Alzheimer’s disease refers to an Alzheimer’s dementia that occurs in individuals under age 65. While obviously much less common than its later-onset counterpart, the Alzheimer’s Association estimates it affects somewhere between 222,000 and 640,000 Americans. They call it a “national crisis.”

Many of us have seen a media representation of the Alzheimer’s disease or have someone in our own family who has suffered from the condition. But rarely do we see or hear about younger individuals who develop the devastating symptoms. And because of this, we don’t learn about some of the unique challenges faced by this group. Early-onset Alzheimer’s patients face not only the decline of their health, but also difficulty getting the right diagnosis, financial issues caused by loss of needed income, difficulty getting adequate insurance coverage as they are not old enough for Medicare, and the lack of appropriate services.

A friend and colleague is part of a unique theater company here in Chicago that is hoping to shed light on this devastating illness. The Eclectic Theatre Company is showcasing the world premier of Unshelved, a dramatic stage production running February 7th through March 2nd. The show examines how the identities of not only the victim, but those of her family are impacted by this disease.

I’ve talked before about how family and friends of those with eating disorders are affected, and also featured some guidance on how loved ones can help when treatment isn’t working. Caregivers of those with Alzheimer’s disease face many of these same challenges. They too need support and guidance.

For anyone caring for a loved one as they battle an illness, self-care is crucial. Sometimes with families with whom I work I use the analogy of a house built on a foundation. The foundation is made stronger with basic things like sleep and adequate nutrition, and is further supported by social support from others and engaging in activities that you enjoy. If the foundation is weak or has cracks, it’s not going to adequately support the rest of the house. We have to make sure our core is solid.

Easier said than done, right? I frequently hear that this would be nice… if there was time. My message is that we have to make time, and that might mean doing things that feel uncomfortable. If our loved one needs round the clock support, we might need to hire a helper or ask a friend to come sit with him while we go on a walk. While easy to do, we can’t allow ourselves to give up the things that make us happy and healthy ourselves. We need to take care of ourselves, and we deserve to do so.

If you’re in the Chicago area in February and early March (because it’s such a lovely time of year here!), be sure to check out the production of Unshelved. It’s sure to be amazing and thought-provoking. If you’re interested in more resources on Alzheimer’s disease or how caregivers can get support, check out the Alzheimer’s Association website.

If you’ve ever cared for someone with a serious illness, what’s your advice? How can we support ourselves while a loved one is struggling? 

 

09 Nov

Learning to Live Again After a Tragedy {Guest Post}

Guest Post 13 Comments by Ashley @ Nourishing the Soul

If you’ve encountered a trauma or tragedy, you’ve likely wondered how it would be possible to bounce back and live the same life. Maybe you couldn’t or wouldn’t be living the same life. But could you still live a life worth living? The following guest post offers some practical tips on how to regain a sense of normalcy. 

Tragedy can strike anyone at any time, which quickly derails even the strongest person. For instance, when I lost my best friend in high school, I thought my world would never rebound. Every death is sudden, and it takes time to recover from any tragedy. I couldn’t have recovered if I hadn’t taken the time to gather my strength. At times, you may think your life has been shattered, and you’ll never catch your breath again. However, there are ways for everyone to move forward, even in face of the most difficult losses.

Talk to Someone

Take time out to vocally express what you’re feeling to another person. This will help you release feelings, while at the same time, allow you to work through the issues preventing you from moving forward with your life. Talking can be as simple as discussing the event or feelings surrounding the event with a loved one, or talking to a professional. Licensed counselors or psychologists are trained to listen, as well as provide methods for overcoming loss.

Hobbies and Experiences

Keep your mind busy on other subjects outside of your tragedy through the hobbies you love or experiences that will impact you, like travel, sports or music. Hobbies like scrap booking, playing a musical instrument, rock climbing, golfing or gardening have both a mental and physical aspect, which keep your mind and hands busy, leaving less time to dwell on negative thoughts. For even greater effects, take time to learn a new hobby to further occupy your mind with learning or developing a new skill. A semester of a new language like Japanese, followed by a three-week trip to Japan can be extremely lightening, rejuvenating and constructive.

Exercise

Regular exercise, whether in a gym, at home or through physical activities like sports is important when facing tragedy, especially when you have feelings of stress, depression or anxiety. Exercise increases the production of endorphins, a natural mood elevator and stabilizer. Exercise can also help you sleep, offer distraction and provide an outlet for anger or frustration.

Laugh

Find time to laugh. Rent a comedy movie, go see a stand up comic! Play games that cause laughter with friends or family, whatever it takes to force a smile. Laughing has proven health benefits, including natural relief from stress and depression. Laughing creates a physical response in the body that stimulates muscles, releases endorphins and improves circulation. All of these effects impact the body’s stress response by soothing tension, improving mood and relieving pain.

Volunteer

Take time to volunteer for others in need, or for causes that you believe in like education or the environment. Your efforts helps you focus on the good work you’re doing, rather than yourself and your current situation. They remind you of, honestly, how much worse it could be, and that everyone goes through challenges. Ideas include volunteering at a homeless shelter, working with youth in need as a big brother or big sister, working at an animal shelter, volunteering time at a local theater or music organization or even volunteering abroad. Organizations need a wide range of volunteers, which provides opportunities that can both interest you and utilize your talents and skills.

Tragedy can be life-altering but it’s up to you to determine whether the ensuing changes destroy you or strengthen you. You can and should choose to follow the steps above, or other steps of your own that bring joy back to your life. While the past may have been hard, you can now open your life up to a bright new future.

Joan Mariska writes all about self-help. Her recent work is on the Top Online Masters in Counseling Programs.

08 Jul

Who’s on Your Personal Board of Directors?

Ideas to Consider 3 Comments by Ashley @ Nourishing the Soul

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Your BOD may look like this — or not…

{image source}

I’ve discovered over the past few months that the old adage that “it takes a village to raise a child” is spot on. But I’ve also learned that all the villagers do not get equal voting privileges.

Becoming a new mother has meant relying heavily on a community of support, and I’ve been incredibly lucky to have it available. If you’ve had a child or gotten married or been in a job search — you’re familiar with the fact that everyone seems to have an opinion about the right way to do things.

Swaddling helps babies hem feel safe and sleep soundly.

But swaddling will kill your child! 

Just invite your closest friends and family. Weddings are sacred events. 

A big wedding is so much fun. Everyone wants to celebrate with you! And you don’t want to offend your grandmother’s neighbor, Berta.

Send as many resumes as you can out. Litter the streets!

It’s a waste of time to even apply to jobs. Just network!

Arrrgh! It’s enough to make your head spin, particularly when you’re in high stress situation. It’s easy to get caught up in the tornado of advice and feel spit out just as confused in the end, but now even more stressed.

So, where’s the balance between support and total overload? How do you know who to listen to? And what about listening to yourself? Where do you come in?

I like to think about electing a personal Board of Directors. From major corporations to tiny non-profits, Boards of Directors are relied upon to be the voices of authority and reason when it comes to decisions. They are made up of a group of specially equipped individuals who each bring a unique and important viewpoint to the table.

My friend Rachel, for example, is my own Chief Career Officer. While she’s in a totally different field than I am, she’s always been a model to me of someone who can advocate for themselves in the workplace and balance home and office life. When I’m stuck about something like how to ask for more vacation days, I turn to her.

Sure, I could post on Facebook that I need help figuring out how to talk to my boss. And maybe crowdsourcing my issue will generate some creative ideas. But what if my boss – or someone else at work – sees my status? Would I be cool with that? And what if (and this is likely) I get fifteen different opinions? How the heck will I know what to do then?

So that’s where Rachel comes in. She’s smart, trust-worthy, and most importantly, she knows ME.

Anyone can dish out advice on whether white peonies make the best bouquet, but only your those on your personal BOD will know that they are special to you because they were your grandmother’s favorite flower.

Take a few minutes and think about who you might elect. You might want someone for financial advice, someone for family issues. There might be someone else who you can count on to keep you sane on body issues, while another friend is your relationship guru.

The important thing is that these are people you trust and who will keep your best interest in mind. They remember that you hate kale despite the hype and that your relationship with your mom has always been complicated.

But the most important person on your BOD? The CEO. And that’s you! Ultimately, you’ll have the make the important calls. Even after being advised by your trusted group, you’ll need to do some soul searching, especially with the tough stuff. And sometimes you’ll also have to make the call to replace someone on your BOD.

So who would you appoint to your Board of Directors?

 

20 May

How One Woman Discovered the Importance of Shared Experience

Guest Post 6 Comments by Ashley @ Nourishing the Soul

The power of shared experience and connection in the midst of shame is one of the most incredible things I’ve experienced as a person and a therapist. Lizabeth Wesely-Casella, founder of Binge Behavior and and all around amazing woman, shares how she came to recognize just how significant that experience could be. 

Shared experience is one of the most powerful life events a person can have.  Just by having endured something together, individuals have been known to overcome prejudice, overlook bitter rivalries or simply respect one another for knowing what the other person has been through.

You see it in the solemnity and sometimes tearful exchanges between military veterans or in the way a seasoned mother knows just how helpful it is to load and run the dishwasher for the new mother who is struggling to find her stride.  You see it in the way a person who has been walking around lost in their own shame breaths easier when they find someone who doesn’t tell them they are ridiculous for feeling ugly or fat or worthless, but instead shares that they too struggle with their self esteem.  Shared experience forgives, rebuilds and nurtures.

Until relatively recently in my life I didn’t get that I needed to have a shared experience in my life.  I was prideful and yet I was filled with shame, nicely cloaked as “personal strength.”

I always thought my greatest strength was being compassionate; that it was fulfilling to listen to and love others and that everyone needs that, external to me.  In my mind my problems weren’t big enough to matter and there was no need to seek compassion for myself.  I also took it to mean that by being listened to, I was taking up someone’s valuable time with my petty, self-made problems and that doing so made me selfish.

My feelings included thoughts like, “I’m larger than the ideal woman so it must be a selfish lack of control that I’m this way.”  Also, “So what if I feel shame every time I walk out of the house, come face to face with a magazine or try on clothes that were fashionably cut for a size 2 and merely expanded to my size 18 body?  How can I possibly consider these feelings worth sharing?  Who wants to hear a ‘woman of size’ complain about her size?”  And, “I must be horribly weak because even this oppressive shame can’t make me change into the shape our culture celebrates.”   I thought that if I shared those thoughts, people would see just how shallow my feelings are, were, and have been for years.

In my mind, these thoughts of mine didn’t merit sharing.  There was nothing wrong with other people feeling this way, but in my mind I had no right to these feelings.  I had (thankfully, have) a healthy husband and dog, I clearly wasn’t starving, I had a safe home…  I was bitching about the little stuff.  Well that “little stuff,” it really hurt me inside and by not sharing it, I only added to that hurt and piled the shame on higher.

Then came the day where the need to share broke me.

It wasn’t planned, it wasn’t even the right forum, but it happened in all of its vulnerability and power and tears and snot and… compassion.  I was speaking to a group and was given a really heartfelt compliment which I struggled to gracefully accept and that breached the walls.  I could no longer hold in my pain, my shame, my fury at being unable to cover it with my social mask any longer and it all came out in an unstoppable flood of admitting my feelings.

Now, as luck would have it, I was among compassionate people.  It’s wasn’t a group therapy scenario and these weren’t people I would interact in this manner ever again; however, the experience prepared me to seek out the right venue for sharing my feelings.  It showed me that I’m not the only person can listen without judging; who needs to give compassion in order to get it and it also showed me that the “little stuff” feelings are more common than I thought.  I had a shared experience in thinking about myself the ways that I did and I was not alone in being ashamed for feeling those feelings – I was not alone in that group.

When I finally found the right place for me to discuss my struggles with my body image and my binge eating disorder (after finding out that those were the struggles that I was having in the first place), I found that by sharing I was getting and giving a free pass of sorts.  I was present with people who had checked their judgmental selves at the door (or the Login page) and for us as participants, no topic or feeling was to go un-honored.  We each needed to know that our feelings were like the feelings others had and in knowing that, those feelings become less burdensome on us as individuals.  They became less troubling and far less powerful.

Those people that I have shared experiences with, they are part of my pack.  I will protect them and support them and I know that they will do the same for me.  We may not have met otherwise, we may not have otherwise enjoyed each others’ company, but in knowing the struggles we share, knowing them bone deep, we respect and stand for one another.

Shared experience means that you know from your own life what I’m dealing with in mine.  Can I count on you to value all that “little stuff” that I question about myself?  Can you trust enough in yourself to ask the same of others?  If sharing my own story has helped encourage you in any way, then that “little stuff” just became a little more valuable.

Lizabeth Wesely-Casella

Lizabeth Wesely-Casella is and advocate for people with binge and impulse control disorders.  She is the Founder of BingeBehavior.com and she uses her experiences with binge eating, binge drinking and trichotillomania to support others through writing and speaking.  Stay current with the latest information and join the forums at www.BingeBehavior.com or follow on twitter at @BingeBehavior.

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