Monday, February 25, 2013

Flooded. The word of the day is Flooded

Flooded, in a psychological sense, means overwhelmed, but at the subconscious, nearly neurological level.  All your little nerve endings are set to "TILT."  In my head, it's like being inside a popcorn popper filled with ping pong balls.  Total overstimulation. 
I know it's been a while since I've written about brains and horses.  Let's get back to the brain.  Remember our friend the amygdala?  Remember how it's a light switch - either off or on?  Guess what happens when we get flooded???!!!  Yep, you guessed it.  Total fight or flight response trigger.  Your brain says that much stimulation must be a swarm of ants or locusts or something, so you better get the heck outa Dodge!!

This guy looks familiar

Going back to the anger issue:  What's that instinct called:  FIGHT or flight?  How often, when we get overwhelmed, do we run screaming from the situation?  I always chuckle at that picture in my head.  I think it would be AWESOME to haul a** out of my kitchen a-la-McCaulay Culkin in Home Alone when my kids are bickering.  Unfortunately, most of the time running away isn't socially appropriate.  So, what's the other option besides flight?  Yeah.  FIGHT.  Ahh, my favorite useless emotion, ANGER.  When we get overwhelmed, our lizard brain kicks into high gear for self-protection and we lash out.

I'm thinking of all the different times this comes into play. 

  • Kids.  Most often for me, it's when both of my kids are talking to me at a time.  It goes nuclear when they are bickering, I am trying to do something else, or it's the end of a day where I've already seen 12 clients.  Or I'm tired.  Or I'm stressed.  Feels like my head is going to explode.  Ugh.  The results are not necessarily ones I'm always proud of.  (See:  Therapists are human too)
  • Arguments.  When one spouse is an internal processor, and he/she marries an external processor.  The words feel like machine-gun fire.  In the heat of the moment, the internal processor gets FLOODED and explodes.
  • Traffic.  You're late.  You're picturing all the negative consequences of being late.  The person behind you honks.  You flip them off and scream words you've never said before. 
  • Frustration.  You're already doing 16 different things, and the person who comes and asks for thing 17 (even though they have no idea they are number 17) gets snapped at. 
Everything about being flooded makes us want to scream STOP!!!!!!!
I think it would usually be better if we did.  Lashing out in anger never solves anything.  More on that to come. 

In searching for a photo to represent how that ping pong ball scenario looks inside my head, I was taken on a walk down memory lane to remember one of my favorite childhood shows: Captain Kangaroo!! Youtube this. The Captain never once ripped Mr. Moose's antlers off for dropping ping pong balls on his head. He always responded with assertiveness. Good job PBS!

Learn to recognize being flooded.  Take a breath.  Take a break.  Take a time-out.  Take a mental vacation.  DON'T blow up, because the blow up isn't really going to be about what you're blowing up about, it's going to be about being flooded.  Remember the amygdala hijack?  A sudden, intense emotional response that later seems out of proportion to the situation?  Don't Do It!  Besides, if you blow up, then you have to apologize (more on that later too) and any valid point you MIGHT have been making gets lost in the anger game.  (How's THAT for motivation!?!) No one has to listen to you if you're "pissed."  Don't make it easy to be disregarded.  At least make others work for it.

Hey!  This is the same guy!

This article brought to you today by the Denver Colorado "Blizzard" of 2013 and my kids who went out and sledded for a while, but were mostly trapped in the house.  They are tucked in bed now, and I am pleased to report that only once did crazy mommy come out, and that was when my 9 year old argued with me about whether her little animal avatar could get married on her online "Animal Jam" game.  That MIGHT have been one of those battles I could have saved for later . . . but it seems wrong for her to be planning a wedding.  I'm willing to take the chance that I over-reacted there. 

Anyway, the plan for today was for me to go into the office, see a couple of clients and get a whole bunch of work done in a nice, quiet, understimulating environment.  Right.  That happened. 

Note to self:  It would have been a better idea to not even TRY to get work done, give up and have a great quality time game day with the kids and call it good.  Tomorrow is a snow day for at least one kid . . . I'll try again. 

Photos courtesy of

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Happy Valentine's Day!

From "Riding with Empathy"
on Facebook.  They have LOTS
of cool horse stuff!
It's HERE!  It's HERE!!  The holiday that's all about celebrating relationship!  Yay!!!  Therapist does the happy dance!
Enjoy your day, folks. 
Keep your amygdala under control and your self-esteem strong. 


If things don't look like you want them to look today, think about looking forward and planning to spend the next 365 days creating NEXT Valentine's day.  Relationship not where you want it to be?  Focus on SOLVING the problem, not complaining about it.  No relationship?  Put on your big kid pants and go find one if you want it.  Kiss a few frogs and see if one of them turns out to be a prince/princess.  Don't feel like you're in a place to want a relationship?  ACCEPT that .  HONOR that.  Be where you are.  You can get to where you want to be. 

Wishing you Love today.  Yes, love from another, whether it's a goldfish, offspring or life partner, but love from yourself most of all.  Without loving yourself, you can't accept love from another (ok maybe the goldfish or a dog) in a healthy way.  Love yourself.  Be content.  You can do both of those on purpose.

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Friday, February 8, 2013

I gave my love ... a cactus.

I have to say I really admire the cactus. 

Cactus lives in a harsh, unforgiving environment.  For the most part, it receives very little water or nourishment, but when it rains, the cactus must be able to store up as much as it can to make it through the next dry spell – and who knows how long that will be.  When the rain comes, and the cactus has replenished its reserves, it flowers.  If things are really good, it can even bear fruit.  Good thinking for the designers of the cactus to make those awesome succulent leaves that can stockpile sustenance.  Sharing a habitat with the cactus are many other hungry and thirsty critters who could use an easy meal.  So the cactus has armor.  And spines.  And the critters leave it alone.  And it survives. 

Prickly Pear Cactus
Photo by Art Poskanzer
A fact to which I do not often admit is that I grew up in South Texas, home of the Prickly Pear Cactus (also the jumping jack cactus which, in addition to the attributes listed above, is constantly set to “attack” mode.  I was on the receiving end of this the assassin of succulents on an endurance ride in El Paso once.  Yeowch).  I have lived in Colorado for nearly 20 years, so I do not consider myself a Texan anymore (really didn’t consider myself a Texan during the 23 years I LIVED in Texas, but that’s another story).  However, when you’ve been gone from somewhere for 20 years, the memory of all the reasons you don’t live there start to fade, and you wax nostalgic from time to time as you consider reclaiming your heritage.  Thus, on one September car trip back to the land of my birth, I decided that it would be super fun to make prickly pear preserves.  I stopped by the side of some lonesome Texas Highway, and used a newspaper to pluck a bagful of the richly colored magenta fruit from its spiny home.  Now nature wants these little beauties to mature right there on the plant, not get eaten by some hungry deer or bird before the seeds can grow on their own, so they have spines too.  Each one of these fruits must be peeled prior to cooking.  May I please tell you how MANY spines these suckers have, and how incredibly fine they are.  It took me WEEKS to stop feeling like I had shards of glass in every single finger.  The preserves never really set, and were more like syrup, but were tasty and made great Christmas gifts that year.  Take home message?  When you’re having to put all your energy into just staying alive because pickin’s are slim, you develop some pretty high-level defense systems. 

On the other hand, let’s look at the orchid.  Delicate stems, fragile leaves, gorgeous flowers with ornate, colorful petals.  No shortage of food and water in the rain forest.   The survival of this lovely depends not on being tough, but on being attractive.  The orchid needs to bat its shy, demure eyelashes at every bug that comes by, just begging to be pollinated and cross-pollinated.  If by chance the orchid is trampled or eaten, there are 30 more in the same zip code who now have a better chance.   

Perhaps you’re wondering at this point if you’re reading the wrong blog.  How did we get from mental health to horticulture? 

WOW!  This orchid is called "The Dove."
Is that gorgeous or what?
Image courtesy of image*after
There’s a great analogy for relationship here.  We are attracted to each other like bugs to an orchid.  (Imagine how romantic I am in my real life J)  Our avatar eyes meet across a crowded internet chat room and it’s kismet . . . we are drunk on the sweet nectar of the first 3 to 6 months of a relationship.  We make sure to have the exact recipe of attention and adoration that makes the other swoon.  It feels great to lavish the other with thoughtfulness, consideration, respect.  We promise it will be this way always, that we will not repeat our past transgressions of too much pruning, or too little, short attention span, too many plants in the greenhouse . . . we are the rain forest and there’s plenty to go around.  And then life kicks in.  Truth is we are not in the rain forest after all, and it takes actual work to care for a plant, as it does to nurture a relationship.  The world of addiction treatment has a saying (which I may or may not be quoting accurately because I remember it from Sandra Bullock in "28 Days" which is a GREAT movie by the way) – “when you get sober, get a plant.  If it’s still alive in a year, get a pet.  If in a year the pet is still alive, then you are ready to think about a relationship.”  I think this can be true for most adults in general.  I’ll save my “evils of society in general” soapbox for later, but will say that we don’t exactly value the concept of “high maintenance” these days.  There’s a reason that describing someone as a “hothouse flower” isn’t really a compliment. 

Also keep in mind that most of us come to the relationship arena with particular wounds and sensitivities.  By the time we get to our 20’s, 30’s 40’s . . . we’re the scratch and dent models, so unless we’re careful, we find out that that lovely orchid has developed some thorns.  Pretty sure with millions of years of slowly changing climate, we would see that orchid turn into a well-defended cactus.  Put that in the pressure cooker of the relationship and you can see the transition in mere months.

I use stock photos for this blog. 
I searched "Orchid" and this photo came up. 
It made me laugh so I thought I'd post it. 
Image courtesy of David et Magalie
If you want a low maintenance relationship, take home a cactus.  Be aware though that though your cactus might not nag and micromanage you to get its needs met, it has spines and isn’t especially cuddly.  Don’t treat it like a cactus and then blame it for being a cactus.  Similarly, if you want an orchid, be ready to put in the legwork.  If you treat your orchid like a cactus, don’t be mad at it for wilting and eventually dying.  You get out of the relationship what you put into it. 

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

50 Ways to Love Your Loved One

Ummm . . . NO.
I'm not into re-inventing the wheel.  Here's some links to lots of good lists OTHER people have made up about small, inexpensive, thoughtful things to do for your valentine.

Ways to be Romantic on the cheap #44 made me laugh!
The Reader's Digest Version: 40 Creative Romantic Ideas Sigh.  These were great.  And educational!  Whew knew the second week in August has meteor showers every year? 

 Here's my own list: 
  • DO SOMETHING. (And not just on Valentine's day. In fact, bonus points for recognizing your partner just becuase it's Tuesday) Not the structured type? Pick 3-5 days random days during the month and put reminders on your calendar or smart phone. My next million-dollar idea is an app that reminds the user to perform random acts of romance or thoughtfulness. Anyone know how to create an app????  
  • Now THAT is one happy guy!
    Image courtesy of imagemagestic
  •  Remember: Valentine's day is about the OTHER person. (Bonus points if you HATE all things fuzzy and you go all out for your partner because you know they like it.) Gals, there might be a few men out there who would enjoy teddy bears and roses, but I don't know any. This is a great day to give him what HE wants. Guys? Go overboard. Valentine's Day is about hearts and flowers and lots of girly things. Indulge us. Bet you won't regret it.
  • Be appreciative. No matter what he/she does, appreciate the effort. Next year, have a conversation in January about your expectations if they are specific.
  • The flip side of that is don't get your feelings hurt if it doesn't go the way it did in your head.
Now those last 2 are different if this is your fourteenth disappointing Valentine's day. Look for future blogs entitled "Your relationship is what it is. Take it or leave it, but stop pouting."

"Love" by Nutdanai Apikhomboonwaroot

 What are your favorite ways to show someone you love them?  Valentine's Day aside, it's important every day, and with partners, kids, friends, and other miscellaneous personnel, to make an EFFORT to show what people mean to us.  It connects us.  And the more connected we are, the better.