The Paradox of Self Harm in a World of Quick Fixes


rubik.cube.02Today I’d like to talk about some serious paradoxes of modern society. Could this explain in part why we are so ill? And why is self-harm occurring at such alarming rates?

  • Society tells us to love our bodies but then offers lipo and  tummy tucks to fix those problem areas.
  • Society tells us to seek materialism, buy more things, but then condemns us for not finding happiness in it.
  • Society tells us we’re beautiful but then bombards us with very unnatural makeup products.
  • Society tells us to grow old gracefully but then pushes a multi-billion dollar anti-aging campaign on us.
  • Society tells us effort is the most important thing  but then drapes young adults with cords at graduation and has a ceremony to honor outcome.
  • Society tells us to love ourselves and take time for self-care but then pushes little white or blue pills at us to remedy our sadness, or loneliness or brokenness.
  • Society wants us to be connected to our families, our neighbors, our friends but then values Facebook and Instagram likes more than phone calls and hugs.

{{Society tells us we are not good enough……and we listen.}}

It seems absurd to the majority of the population that harming oneself would ever feel better than not harming oneself. In fact, self-harm behaviors contradict what appears to be reasonable, logical and acceptable ways of self care, even in a world of quick fixes. But I’ve worked with enough self-harmers to tell you definitively, self-harmers are seeing all of those societal expectations and more. And they are condemning themselves for not measuring up.

This condemning takes the form of self-loathing, guilt, anxiety, anger, and being overwhelmed and its so unbearable to be stuck in this emotional storm that they find a way to shelter themselves. Self-preservation though self-mutilation of the body’s soft tissue. The act offers a temporary but effective quick fix. The emotional pain goes away, instantly, for the moment. Quick fix. Society likes that, no doubt, except this one is taboo, shameful, and “bad”.

So what do we do? How do we change? First understand quick fix and society’s paradoxes. Then work towards understanding why self-harm happens, and why it happens again.

Peace be with you my friends.

The Mind-Body Connection

When I sat down to write a piece for my blog today, I started to look to the notes on my phone. I routinely save topics on there that I might like to write about later. But before I even got to those stored notes, the mind-body connection popped into my head, and I knew what I wanted to write about. And this is why: In the past 7 months, nothing has been more transforming, mentally, emotionally and physically, than my making my health a priority for the first time in my life.

It goes back to May 2015, and a cluster of spots on my annual mammogram. Funny, because I was considering skipping my annual mammogram that year. I had gotten busy! I had become legal guardian to two teens in April and life was FULL. So as it were, I put it off, usually going on my birthday in April, this time going in May after my boyfriend pestered me a little bit and said I should probably not skip it. Okaaaayyy, fine. I’ll make an appointment. I had no breast cancer history in my family and no previous issues and I considered it an exercise in wasting time, but something I would do to show him, and myself, I was responsible. I was 44 years old.

In June 2015, after another mammogram, an MRI and a biopsy, I was given the diagnosis of Stage 0, non-invasive, DCIS cancer. Otherwise known as Ductal Carcinoma In Situ. Otherwise known as “the best type of cancer you can have”. Geeeeee, thanks doc, I feel so much better now.

I was shocked. Devastated. Scared shitless. Let me again emphasize how scared I was. I had no idea about cancer or types of breast cancer. I didn’t know anyone with cancer and no one in my family had cancer. The doctor, the medical oncologist, did her best to explain it to me, while I sat, internally dumbfounded, externally calm, cool and collected. She explained my treatment options. She explained the success rates. She looked from my boyfriend to me and back again. She was waiting for an answer. How did I want to proceed? She wanted to get me on the surgery schedule as soon as possible. I left the office, with a promise to call her and tell her my decision as soon as I could.

Finally, when alone (which is hard to do with two kids at home!), I broke down, sobbed, in fact. I sobbed in my bed, I sobbed in my car, I sobbed on the phone with my mom. I researched. I researched some more. I researched again. I stayed up late at night reading everything I could about DCIS. What was this? Why had I gotten it? Why had I gotten it at such a young age? How could I have gotten it with no family history? What were my treatment options? What were the success rates? How do they know? Are there different outcomes for those who get it so young? Why did this happen? I’m a very practice, science-based, rational decision-maker. So after a lot of thought, I finally decided on a lumpectomy with the 6 1/2 weeks of radiation they recommended. I couldn’t see lobbing off my whole breast for cancer contained in my milk ducts. Seemed radical. Totally respect those who make that decision. It’s your body and you have to live with it. As it turns out, I had to have a lumpectomy and two re-incisions…which means they had to go in two more times to take more tissue that they believed contained cancer. Maybe I should have had the mastectomy…

Anyway, after three surgeries I was ready for radiation to start in several weeks. I was told some patience get tired from it. My first thought: I can’t be tired!!! I have to work!!! I have kids!!! I can’t take time off work!!! I have things I need to do!!! The tiredness is more from the grind of having to go to the hospital every day, Monday through Friday,  than from treatments themselves. I had been told this early on (plus, I had done all my research about it), but I was super paranoid I would get too tired to live my life. Taking a leave of absence was not an option. So,  I had decided I was going to start exercising to be ready for the possible fatigue. I started walking outside with my neighbor after re-incision #1. I planned on averting fatigue, if at all possible, and I knew exercise could make me more invigorated and energetic. I had avoided exercise for a long time. Why? Because I was busy. Because I was a single parent, working, and doing it all. Because I had other priorities. Because I was overworked and stressed. Because my kids took priority and that made me a good mom. Because I liked carbs and sugar and those things drained my energy. Because…

By the time radiation began in September, I had already lost weight. I was happy about that, but it’s not what drove me. I wasn’t weighing myself. There was, however, always a nagging thought in the back of my mind that did drive me: did I fuel cancer with eating unhealthy, not exercising and being overweight? Could I have prevented this? Was it partially my fault I got cancer? I kept walking. I walked with my neighbor. I walked without my neighbor. I walked in the beautiful colors of the fall. I walked in the plummeting temperatures of late autumn in Michigan. I walked until the trees had no leaves. I took in every sight, every smell, every touch of the air. I walked. I thought. I reasoned. I felt sorry for myself. I talked. I walked with my cancer. And that fall, I grieved my way though my cancer diagnosis, step by step.

Radiation was well on its way. I was working full time. I was taking care of kids. I was walking. I was radiating. I started eating better. The weather turned cold. I joined the local community center. I walked on the treadmill. I radiated. I began incorporating some weight lifting into my routine. It felt good. My friend’s attendance fell off. I kept going. I radiated. I tracked my progress. I tracked my food intake. I lost weight. I liked it. I radiated. I went to the gym. The kids didn’t die from missing me. I was doing it. I was taking care of myself, my whole self.

At week 5, things got hard. By week 5 1/2 I almost quit radiation. I was in pain. A lot of pain. The radiation was burning my skin. My skin was peeling and weeping. It hurt to wear a bra. It hurt not to wear a bra. It hurt to move my arm. It hurt to overhead press a weight because it stretched my skin. I kept lifting. Luckily, the skin was least painful in the evening and I was able to ignore it more and keep lifting. I kept walking. I walked faster. I incorporated jogging intervals into my walk. I felt good. I knew I was doing something good for my body. My body responded and so did my mind!

Fast forward several months. I have joined a different gym with more space, more equipment and more hours. I go there 5 days a week. I lift, I cardio, I track my nutrition. And this is what I’ve learned: there is absolutely a mind-body connection.  It reminds me of the quote attributed to Abraham Lincoln when he was asked about his religion. He said, “When I do good, I feel good. When I do bad, I feel bad. And that’s my religion.” This is exactly how I feel about what I am doing. When I workout, I feel good. When I don’t workout, I feel bad. And that has a direct impact on my mental health.

Mentally, working out routinely, and I mean specifically lifting weights, puts me into a head space like no other. While lifting I am focused. I am breathing. I am putting my mind on a singular goal. Lift the weight up, put the weight down. Breath. Lift it up, put it down. Breath. There is a name for this in psychology. It’s called mindfulness. There are several similar definitions, however Psychology Today says mindfulness is a state of active, open attention on the present. Bingo! And mindfulness is attributed to decreased rumination, stress reduction, boosting working memory, more cognitive flexibility and less emotional reactivity. I can tell you it does that for me, and more, so much more.

Emotionally, I feel stronger and more even keeled. I just don’t think I have the capacity to be both emotional and exerting physical energy at the same time. Every day, I’m one workout away from emotionally washing away the ups and downs of my day.  As the physical tide comes in, any upset or worried feelings wash away. And I can rely on it. I’m the type of person who likes predictability. Most of us are creatures of habit. But if that habit predictably creates a clean emotional slate that carries you to the next day, it’s the best kind of habit to have. It does it for me in a way that chocolate never did.

Physically, I cannot tell you what lifting weights has done for me. I am strong. I am no longer winded. I want to take long hikes; I take long hikes. I want to climb big staircases; I climb big stairs. I move my body. I challenge my body. What else can you do body? I bet you can do THIS! I can make you look the way I want you to look now. I bet I can make my waist narrower and my booty bigger. Yep, I can. I bet I can sculpt my shoulders. Yep, I can. I challenge myself to reinvent myself, any way I want. Physical limitations? Not on your life! And to think, I had put them on myself before, voluntarily, out of sheer ignorance and negligence. Whaat?

I am reaching the 10 month mark post-diagnosis. I’m feelings good. I was one of the lucky ones. I’m lucky I got cancer. I’m lucky I got they type of cancer I did. Am I sad I got cancer? You betcha. Am I afraid it might return? Yes I am. These feelings are normal. Working out isn’t putting me in la-la land. I’m still a realist at heart and I know my chances of getting cancer again are there. I understand working out isn’t going to solve everything. But it has given me so much I never knew existed. It has given me, ME. And that all happened because cancer happened. A cancer diagnosis fueled the mind-body connection I needed to experience the whole person I am. For that, I am grateful to cancer.

walking path

(Pictured above: A favorite walking spot. Stony Creek Metropark, Shelby Township, MI)

I’m Not Crazy: The Social Stigma of Therapy

Business patient talking about his private problems at phychological session

Throughout the years, and because of my profession, I’ve often had the chance in a non-clinical setting to lend an ear to people from all walks of life who are struggling with something. It may be something as big as childhood molestation or as small as being easily frustrated by a spouse’s habits. Sometimes it’s anxiety or depression or anger. All things big and small share a common element. These things occupy valuable real estate in the person’s mind and draws uncomfortable emotions to the surface, while detracting from a life filled with joy and peace.

After listening intently I ultimately suggest therapy as an option to deal with said thing. “Oh no, I’m not crazy!”

It’s a much more common response than you might think and I’m saddened there is still a social stigma attached to mental health help. I ask why they think going to therapy means they’re crazy. Sometimes I get blown off. But, sometimes, I get a chance to dispel the myths surrounding therapy and mental health.

Here are my thoughts on who goes to see a therapist and why, from a therapists perspective.

Most people who go to therapy go to help themselves cope with intense and uncomfortable feelings they don’t like having.  PERIOD.

Many people go to help themselves cope with normal, every day stress and some go to improve relationships. Often people go for moderate problems and it is not true that people who go are “really messed up”. Most people go for only a short time before they begin to feel better (8 to 12 sessions). There’s no rule that says one has to go for a long time or dig into their past. And for that matter, it can be exactly what the person wants it to be. A good therapist will work on what the client wants to work on by helping the person navigate the thoughts, feelings and beliefs that keep them “stuck”.

People who go to therapy know there is a difference between talking to a friend and talking to a therapist. A therapist can help them reach their goal. Most people do not need to go on medication to start feeling better, but some do decide to go on medication while in therapy. Neither being in therapy, nor taking medication, makes you crazy. In my opinion it makes one proactive, courageous, and demonstrates self-care.

Therapy is a tool in your coping tool box. Sometimes you need to pull out the right tool for the right task. If you’re unhappy or anxious or want to change something that is taking up space in your zen zone, consider therapy. There is no shame in taking steps to improve one’s mental health. It’s one of the best things a person can do for themselves. Know what you need and how to get it in a healthy way. There’s nothing better than that.

For information on getting effective therapy see my blog post entitled

Good Therapy: Are You Getting It?

seek therapy 2

What’s Your Client’s ACE Score?


The topic of childhood trauma has been in the news a lot in the past 15 years. From the Sandy Hook shooting to Hurricane Katrina to the Wold Trade Center terrorist attack, it seems more and more children are experiencing tragedy. On a smaller scale, every day children across the United States experience domestic violence, drug abuse in the home, a family member’s mental illness, divorce and a number of other significant life events. All of these experiences are adverse and are potentially and likely harmful to the development of the child. In fact, if you experienced toxic stress in childhood, you likely are more prone to health consequences, both physical and emotional.

toxic stress

As our understanding of the effects of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) has come into light, so have advances in Trauma-Informed Practices in the mental health field. But how can one quantify Adverse Childhood Experiences and their effect on one’s quality of life and their life span? This article seeks to inform the reader about one tool that can be used to assess a client’s childhood adversity, the ACE score.

In 1997 the largest study to date on the effects of childhood trauma was conducted as a collaboration between the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Kaiser Permanente’s Health Appraisal Clinic in San Diego. More than 17,000 insurance members provided detailed information about their experiences with abuse, neglect and family dysfunction before the age of 18. Participants also underwent a comprehensive physical examination. A link to these questionnaires can be found here

The results were astounding. Certain childhood experiences showed a strong correlation to some of the leading causes of illness, death and social problems. Listed below are the correlates.

  • Alcoholism and alcohol abuse
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Depression
  • Fetal death
  • Health-related quality of life
  • Illicit drug use
  • Ischemic heart disease (IHD)
  • Liver disease
  • Risk for intimate partner violence
  • Multiple sexual partners
  • Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)
  • Smoking
  • Suicide attempts
  • Unintended pregnancies
  • Early initiation of smoking
  • Early initiation of sexual activity
  • Adolescent pregnancy

(Data taken from

Looking at the data from ACEs alone only gives us half a picture. Therapists understand that trauma impacts everyone differently and that what is traumatic for one person may not be traumatic for another. So how do we measure the impact of trauma? We need to also look at a clients resilience. Although there is not yet a standardized measure for resilience, the one found here Resilience Questionnaire  is a good start to furthering your understanding. Resilience encompasses certain protective factors, including external factors such as positive relationships and internal factors such as mental attributions.

Armed with these new data points, how can you use your client’s ACE score and resilience score to develop a more effective and comprehensive treatment plan? Can you help your client develop an understanding of how these childhood traumas impact their functioning today? How can you foster resilience in your client?  Using a client’s ACE score and resilience factors can help you provide high quality treatment to a wide client base.

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More detailed information about ACEs can be found here and here



This is Going to Hurt, but Only for a Minute: Why Change is Hard.


Yep, that’s where the change got painful, right between those two sea shells. It all started with the thought I’ve been telling myself, for 12 years. “I hate that cornflower blue bathroom! One day, it’s comin’ down!” It was a truth only known to me, as others didn’t seem to be bothered by it. “I like it. It’s retro,” said every friend I have. “It’s old but it’s in perfect condition. Why would you change it?” But it was my truth, and I held it dearly, so a change was a ‘comin’. And that change began in the twilight of last night.

I went into the project with an optimism only a DIYer can have. Do you know it? Start with this wall tonight, then the other tomorrow. Then move on to the fun stuff…paint, fixtures, stuff! Haha, right! Sometimes change is kinda hard (that’s what I was expecting, kinda hard, like ripping off a bandage) and sometimes it’s WOAH!!!!-What-did-I-get-myself-in-to-hard!!

Do you see this?

in wall

And this?

mesh backing

Yep, that’s TWO INCHES of concrete followed by a wire mesh backer! Let the pain of that set in. Let regret, remorse and other “r” words flood your mind. Maybe the cornflower blue wasn’t so bad after all, I think to myself in a panic. Why didn’t I just have the tiles sprayed white? I asked myself. Am I even strong enough to continue this? I ask. But once one is in the throws of it, what can one do? After I searched the internet for how to remove this stuff, and after I whined to my boyfriend a little bit (okay, a lot!), I did what most people do and that is, get on with the change process.

And that got me to thinking again about the concept of change. All change is a process, and painful, even if you know the outcome will be good! Think about the change process of a new, higher paying job. A move to your ideal neighborhood. Turning in your Dodge Charger for a family minivan to accommodate your ever-expanding beautiful family (that one’s for my friend Ryan who cried at this change!). Some change we look forward to and some we don’t, but I believe all change is on the mental pain spectrum. Sometimes it even mimics the grief process. There’s denial and disbelief. There’s anger. There’s bargaining. There’s depression. And finally, acceptance. For some things, it’s a bandage, for others, it’s a tile wall followed by two layers of cement and a wire backing. I think you know which one this is.  🙂

What changes have been the hardest or easiest for you?

Choosing My Blog Name

After a brief but revealing internet search on choosing a blog name I realized that choosing the perfect name is serious business! Not serious like having gall bladder surgery or filing your taxes by April 15th (which I still have to do but will gladly wait until 11:59pm on April 15th thank you very much), but pretty serious.

Make is short. Make it catchy. Make it easy to find by subject. So. Many. Rules. *Sigh* Now don’t get me wrong, usually I love rules! Rules are the peanut butter to my jelly, the yin to my yang, the…well, you get it.

But none of the ideas I thought of expressed the overall feeling of this blog as well as this song that I was recently reacquainted with, by John Denver:

Yep. That’s it. Life’s struggles. Life’s victories. A common theme among people. All laid out in a song I heard on my parents record player when I was ten years old. Speaking of struggles, did you know this was originally a song written in 1976 by Dick Feller? Dick was having a stone type of year because this song failed to chart. John had a few diamonds thrown his way in 1981 with this song which reached number 36 on the Billboard Hot 100 and some other sweet successes that year.

If you’re not a country fan, please treat yourself to the Amos Lee tribute to John Denver version of the song. Also quite pleasing.

Yep, some days are indeed diamonds, and some days are stone.


Let your diamonds outshine your stones.



The Starfish Story


Have you heard the starfish story? It goes a little something like this:

A man was walking along the beach early one morning. Down the beach he saw a young person dashing back and forth into the surf. He smiled thinking the person was enjoying a game on this beautiful morning so he walked faster to catch up. As he got closer, he saw the young person carefully picking something out of the sand, running to the surf and very gently throwing it into the ocean. As he got closer he called out, “Hello! What are you doing?” The young person paused the game, looked up, and replied, “Throwing starfish in the ocean.” “The sun is up and the tide is going out, if I don’t throw them in, they’ll die.” “But don’t you realize that there are miles and miles of beach and starfish all along it?” “You can’t possibly make a difference!” After listening politely he bent down, picked up another starfish and gently threw it into the sea, past the breaking waves, and said, “It made a difference to that one.”


Everyone Matters.

The Starfish Story

The Starfish Story Have you heard the starfish story? It goes a little something like this:

A man was walking along the beach early one morning. Down the beach he saw a young person dashing back and forth into the surf. He smiled thinking the person was enjoying a game on this beautiful morning so he walked faster to catch up. As he got closer, he saw the young person carefully picking something out of the sand, running to the surf and very gently throwing it into the ocean. As he got closer he called out, “Hello! What are you doing?” The young person paused the game, looked up, and replied, “Throwing starfish in the ocean.” “The sun is up and the tide is going out, if I don’t throw them in, they’ll die.” “But don’t you realize that there are miles and miles of beach and starfish all along it?” “You can’t possibly make a difference!” After listening politely he bent down, picked up another starfish and gently threw it into the sea, past the breaking waves, and said, “It made a difference to that one.”


Everyone Matters.