Berkeley's Greater Good Magazine published an article this month about the need to promote social connection as a public health initiative. They mention the United States Surgeon General, Vivek Murthy's issuing of a public health advisory on the healing effects of social connection and community.
There is much evidence demonstrating the negative impacts of social isolation on our physical health. From increased risk of heart disease, cancer and diabetes, higher levels of inflammation, decreased immune function, and increased odds of premature death. It is also a leading cause of mental distress. Loneliness is associated with higher anxiety, depression, and suicide rates. This is only exacerbated since the pandemic.
A cure for loneliness and social isolation is connection and belonging. Some really cool research out of Harvard shows "warm social relationships are the most important predictor of happiness across the life course." The CDC shared this year that social connectedness positively influences our minds, bodies, and behaviors — all of which positively influence our health and life expectancy. Social connectedness also leads to sizable reductions in crime rates and increases in overall community safety.
As a narrative play therapist and a community activist, I witness how safe, playful relationships promote connection and mental well-being. I experience my therapy clients and community members - children and adults alike - healing through connection. Engaging in wonder and curiosity, increasing emotional regulation and sense of connection promotes wholeness. When we build trusted relationships with each other, and a sense of belonging, we feel safer, we live longer, we support each other, and we remember our goodness.
Most everyone who is considering starting their family has heard of the book, “What to Expect When You’re Expecting.” This book is read by 93% of women who read a pregnancy book, according to USA Today. There are 18.5 million copies in print. When you are expecting, you are often surrounded by support. When you are not expecting, it may feel like no one gets it.
There are approximately 61 million married couples in the U.S. (and many nonmarried couples) trying to create a family. With 1 in 8 couples in the U.S. experiencing infertility today, that’s over 7 million couples that are experiencing infertility.
Why do couples feel so alone on the journey? Why is there no known guidebook?
Yes, there are a few books out there, like “When You're Not Expecting: An Infertility Survival Guide” and “What to expect when you're not expecting: A no nonsense discussion about infertility.” But for the most part, people facing infertility just figure it out. Most likely you tried to have a baby on your own, unsuccessfully. You got a doctor’s opinion. Now you and your partner are navigating your options. Perhaps you are open with friends and family. Or you are pursuing IUI, IVF, surrogacy, or adoption in secret.
Whether you are open or keep more private, the voices of infertility show up everywhere. “So, when are you and your [husband/wife/partner] going to have a baby?”
If you dare share that you are getting help, you may hear, “Oh, I have friends who tried that, and as soon as they started the process, they got pregnant on their own.”
Those voices of infertility do not help you to feel grounded, supported, or hopeful. They too often inform a narrative about who you are that does not serve you, or your mental health.
In your relationship and in your body (for women, primarily, but also for men), there are new factors to deal with. New ways of thinking about your family. New ways to think about sex. Unexpected expenses and financial stress. Infertility drugs, fertility appointments, holistic or other fertility pursuits: acupuncture, chiropractic, massage, yoga, and more.
Some of this journey is beautiful, and sometimes it is too much. You may laugh at the craziness. You may scream. Sometimes you both cry.
This is an experience for which you probably have had no preparation. You likely have no road map. The journey is filled with both hope and fear. You hope your partnership has the emotional strength to emerge from the infertility journey unscathed. You don’t want to give words to the fear.
How do you deal with the emotional fallout of infertility? How do you stay healthy along the way? This is where therapy comes in. Therapy to support you and your partner as you work to create your family.
Therapy provides a place to process while on the journey. Guidance from people who know the road you are on and have helped many before you find their way to peace. Whether your journey leads you to pregnancy, adoption, or the decision to live child-free, fertility counselors can help you get clarity about your choices, your values, and your decisions.
Therapy can also be a place to heal after you’ve long-since finished the journey. Whether you are now a parent or chose to stop the journey and love your life child-free.
I hope you will take the opportunity to ask yourself, "What story am I telling myself about this journey?" Choose the version of this story that extends the most self-compassion. You have the power to do this. This is one thing that you can control.
And if you don't know how, I invite you to reach out for support.
I rose to the news that you transitioned.
After days and weeks and months of figuring,
of feathers kissing your skin,
children and grandchildren's hands moving gently on your softest skin,
on your tiny, precious physical self.
You are free from pain and suffering.
Your spirit soaring high, you are larger than life.
Loved by so many. All who you encountered.
Generous with your very you smile.
A brilliant wit, a naïve-seeming openness.
Fiercely compassionate, indignant of injustice.
Brave of tongue, unwilling to hold back truth.
Able to see the light in each of us.
Especially within your beautiful, creative tribe.
Now you breathe in peace.
Your work is done,
and you rise.
Letting us know how it is out there, on the other side, in your ways.
Your magic, only magnified.
We wear your impact on us,
all who you loved,
like a quilt of a thousand colors over our shoulders
as we stand in the cool of a September dawn,
in awe of the beauty of the sunrise.
No matter what the challenge, when we feel disconnected from ourselves the challenge is heightened. Problems large and small. Humans older and younger. Whether grief, anxiety, infertility, abandonment, work stress, school stress, pandemic fatigue, parenting, being a human, being a kid. When we feel most "unmoored," most in need of grounding and centering, most afraid, even, we are usually also feeling disconnected to ourselves.
No matter what is happening in your life in this moment, I invite you to ask yourself: What do I need, right here, right now? (Is it peace? joy?) What do I want? (Love? contentment? a family? to belong? abundance? All of the above? Or is it unclear and you seek clarity?)
Notice what shows up for you here. And if your mind is going 100 miles an hour, or even if it isn't, invite acceptance. Whatever's showing up just is. You are a human with a human experience. Let go of judgement. You don't have all the answers. You are experiencing something very difficult. It's okay to not know. To be confused. Notice, and add a layer of acceptance.
And then extend self-compassion. Be gentle on you. Be kind, even. Breathe. You don't need to feel calm (though that sounds well and good), but you do need to feel connected - to your own voice, your own needs, desires, even your discontent. If you have an unsettled feeling in your stomach, a nagging ache, a craving in your heart, listen to it. Only when you listen to it can you decide your response. If it is grief you are experiencing, the challenge might look like the greatest sorrow. Unfixable. So whatever is showing up, honor it. Honor the loss, the hurt, the suffering. It deserves to be honored.
So, (1) Notice your need in the present moment. (2) Accept what's showing up. (3) Extend self-compassion. And then (4) Shift to connection. Put down the phone. Remove yourself from distractions, listen to your innermost voice, maybe even place your hands on your heart. Acknowledge: My feelings are valid, my truth is my truth, my experience is my own.
This is the path to healing: Noticing, accepting, being kind to you, and in that context, listening and connecting to YOU. You'll better understand your needs, you'll notice the wisdom of your life experiences, maybe you'll hear the language of your heart. You'll be able to get perspective, experience yourself in new ways, and begin feeling grounded and centered. Connected to you. You are so worth it.
How do you want to live your life?
Is your life filled with passion and compassion? Humor and style? Generosity and kindness? Not for anyone else to see or judge, but just for you. Self-compassion, loving kindness, enjoying your own way of being.
Or do these things seem frivolous? Because just breathing, at times, is a major chore.
I invite you to lift up, out of your current situation - the dominant narrative of your current life experience - and see beyond the problems. Just for a moment. Let go of the current major challenge you are facing and appreciate YOU. How much you struggled to get here, how much more you want out of life, how much you have to offer. Breathe into that for a minute.
Are you struggling with finding a way to get from surviving to thriving? Whatever your age, your situation, your life story, I am here to help you get to the goodness of life. Using narrative therapy, play therapy, creative expression, and mindfulness approaches, I support you to get clear about your goals, understand your responses to difficult life experiences, and value your strengths and coping skills. I will help you envision a future where you are THRIVING and re-connected to what brings you most joy.
I love this quote from Brene' Brown. "When we deny the story, it defines us. When we own the story, we can write a brave new ending."
Too often we feel like a story that we didn't write - or even approve of - defines us. We grow up with other people's stories of who we are, feeling like we have no choice in the matter. Hating the stories, sometimes, and even believing stories that are complete untruths.
When we own our story - our STORIES - of who we are - of who we want to be. When we give ourselves permission to write our own preferred narrative of who we are in the present moment - of who we are in the multiplicity of our identities - all our different environments - whether with family, in school, in our careers, in romantic relationships, in pursuing our dreams, in play - we can write brave new endings and infinite new beginnings.
As a counselor committed to supporting trauma survivors on their healing journey, I was drawn to narrative therapy because - from its foundation - it is trauma-informed. Key concepts of narrative therapy align with those of trauma-informed counseling. Both prioritize transparency, collaboration, empowerment, choice, voice and social justice.
When you are considering counseling, it is important to know that you will not be judged by your responses to trauma. Instead, the meaning that you've given to the traumatic experiences in your life will be explored with you. If you are consumed by certain experiences of your life, and you feel stuck, I will examine with you just how this problem is impacting your life. I will help you explore the times in your life when you were resilient, when you felt most free, and help you celebrate and learn from those moments.
What you feel you missed or do not have in your life tells a lot about what you value most. Is it connection, love, being respected, feeling fulfilled? I will listen to your stories, help you externalize your problem, thicken your alternate narratives, and support you to become who you want to be and how you want to feel right now.