Emotional Friendship Bracelet Activity


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The first step to this activity is to set up the bracelet that will be used to direct this activity.  Follow the steps below to get started with your bracelet.

1.    Select a sturdy material, such as cardboard, to create a circular cut out.  I used a disposable cup to cut my circle.

2.    Cut 12 slits in the circle, preferably evenly spaced.

3.    Cut equal lengths of your 11 colors of embroidery thread, or other similar thread material.WIN_20180712_18_01_05_Pro

a.    Green = growth

b.    Blue = sadness/depression

c.    Orange = confusion

d.    Purple = anxiety

e.    Grey = frustration

f.     Red = anger/rage

g.    Pink = love

h.   White = peace/faith/spirituality

i.     Yellow = joy/happiness

j.     Black = fear

k.    Brown = clear as mud emotion

4.    Line up the ends of each thread and tie a knot to hold them all together.DSC_0364

5.    Attach a charm to one of the threads, if desired.

6.    Use a pencil to punch a hole in your cardboard circle and gently thread your colors through the hole.

7.    Separate your thread and anchor each color in its own slit.

Now you are ready to begin your journaling.

The first thing I recommend is to pick a charm that represents what you want to anchor your journaling experience with.  In my office I often use an anchor charm or a have my clients find a charm that represents their safe or healing place.  Thread the charm onto the emotion you want your anchor to be attached to as you complete this activity.  Examples are: growth, peace/faith/spirituality, love, joy.  Pick a DSC_0366positive emotion.

You can decide on the pattern you want to use to create your bracelet, as long as you at least move every other string.  I recommend your first bracelet move every third string.  As you pick up a string, journal about the emotion associated with that color.  Spend a minute with each string everyday for a total of 11 journal entries until you get used to the process.  Use the following questions to guide your work:

·        Green = what is something I am growing in?

·        Blue = what is something that makes me sad or feel depressed?

·        Orange = what is something that is causing me, or has caused me, confusion?DSC_0368

·        Purple = what is something that makes me anxious?

·        Grey = what is something that I find frustrating?

·        Red = what is something that makes me mad?

·        Pink = what is something that I love?

·        White = what is something that gives me peace or strengthens my faith/spiritual practice?

·        Yellow = what is something that gives me joy?

·        Black = what is something that causes me fear?

·        Brown = what is something that makes me feel an emotion I don’t know how to name?

 DSC_0372Each week or month change up the question by changing the stem of the question to answer the “wh” questions and how.  Who, what, when, where, why, and how.  As you address each question for the colors, you can search for charms that represent your experience with each emotion and thread it onto that color.  You could also thread charms that represent nurturing or strength as you work your way through this activity.  The sky is the limit when it comes to the charms you may add!  Try to make the charms something that helps you grow in your journey or honors an important memory/milestone.

As you observe your bracelet growing, or help your child observe their bracelet, notice the following things:

1.    Is there a pattern emerging?

2.    Do the colors look separate or intertwined?

3.    Is each thread stronger or weaker than before it was woven together with the other colors?

4.    Are there any colors you did not like?  How do they look woven together with the other colors?

5.    Do you notice how you put positive and negative emotions through the circle (healing place) and something beautiful was created?  It took the good stuff and the bad stuff to create your beautiful bracelet.

Some of you might think: This is great….if I wanted to make a bracelet.  Rest assured that you can modify this activity to meet your lifestyle.  You can use this activity to make a bookmark, wall hanging, or whatever holds meaning to you and can provide reminders of what you need, where you’ve been, or where you want to go.

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NOTE: This journal activity utilizes a friendship bracelet technique that can be found on social media or other internet searches.  What makes this activity unique is the interaction between the bracelet and the journaling directives.

Infant Loss Demystified…..Sort Of

What is the first thing you think of when you hear that an infant has died?

WIN_20180306_13_19_19_ProOften, hearing about the death of an infant is heartbreaking and confusing.  Often, we are, unavoidably, faced with our own beliefs about death, dying, and any afterlife.  Sometimes being faced with these tough topics diverts attention from what is happening in the here and now for the woman and family that directly experienced the loss.  Instead, we are consumed with our own discomfort about the loss of the baby.  Being present for the family or woman who experienced the loss can feel overwhelming, confusing, sad, disconnecting, incomprehensible, frightening, and much more.

The truth about infant loss is that it is no different than any other type of grief……while also being much more complex and drastically different.  Just like other forms of grief, the process is not linear.  Unlike other forms of grief, decisions about what to do next and the physical impact on the woman who carried that baby are much more complicated.WIN_20180607_15_10_45_Pro

Frequently, a mother’s response to her deceased baby is uncomfortable to those around her.  She may want to hold her deceased baby.  She may question whether she heard her baby take a breath, heard a heartbeat, saw a movement, etc.  This happens regardless of the baby being born alive or stillborn.  She may want to sleep with her baby.  She may have difficulty releasing the body for the next steps.  She may not want to acknowledge what happened. Ever.  She may be quick to release the baby’s body for the next steps.  She may struggle to reconcile a healing surgical wound from a cesarean section with having empty arms.  She may struggle with hospital bills for a baby she cannot bring home.  She may struggle with continuing to look pregnancy after a vaginal delivery, knowing she cannot bring her baby home.  She may become upset when someone asks her when she is due because her body still looks pregnant.  She may never speak of the baby she could not bring home.  She may talk incessantly about the baby she could not bring home.

These responses to the death of an infant are no surprise to a grief therapist.  They also do not mean that the woman who lost a baby is handling her grief in an abnormal way.  In fact, these responses are typical!  Loosing a baby is hard.  In many ways, the above responses are protective.  If a woman experienced all the emotions of her loosing her baby at one time, she would quite likely become overwhelmed by all the emotions….and move into concerning grief patterns.  The above reactions to loosing a baby protect the mother from becoming so overwhelmed by her emotional experience that she is unable to address her grief in manageable ways.

It is important foCharacteristics of Mourning Infant Lossr a woman who has lost an infant to feel supported in a way that helps her to lean into her grief in a tolerable way.  Just like Goldie Locks, her grief experience needs to be not too hard and not too soft.  There is a just right process for walking through her grief story.  Each woman’s just right grieving process is different.  As a family member or friend, you can help the bereaved mother in your life find her just right path by asking questions and being a present listener.  Being present and adaptable to your bereaved mother’s needs facilitates the process of mourning.

Mourning is the outward expression of our grief, according to Dr. Allan Wolfelt.  Without external expression, we are not able to move to the next phase of grieving.  Asking a woman to move on from the loss of her baby is like asking her to remain prisoner to her grief.  Let her tell you her story, even if it makes you uncomfortable.  Outward expression of her grief is the only way that she can reconcile her grief experience and move into a life full of joy for what remains present with her.

A woman grieving the loss of her infant needs opportunities to sit with her story of loss in manageable ways, such as drawing, quiet time, telling her story (at her own pace), memory making, and much more.  There is no time limit for her grief, and mourning should be expected to last about two years.  The best support during this time is caring and loving family or friends.  If the bereaved mother in your life needs more support, group or individual therapy may be a helpful support system that can facilitate the mourning process.  The ideal situation is for those around her to love her well and remain present.  Mourning will become less intense over time, though grief will remain for a lifetime.

Have you told the bereaved mother in your life that you love her just the way she is? Recently?

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Your Brain on Trauma

WIN_20180508_11_48_41_ProThe human brain is so very complex.  One tiny change can make a tremendous difference, much like a computer.  For example, when I lived in Ireland, I worked for a company that utilized a rather complex software program to manage revenue from various business sectors.  In this system, it was important to right click and select paste rather than use “ctrl V”.  After years of training my brain to use “ctrl V” it seemed near impossible to remember to right click and select paste.

I was a serious nightmare for our IT department in the UK.  When a user used “ctrl V” they would lose an important function in the program which could only be restored by calling over to the team in the UK.  No.  This is not a story about being the annoying employee who called for help all the time, though I am sure that was also the case.  Whenever I used “ctrl V”, I was corrupting the database’s data.  Where?  That’s a good question!  We did not know exactly where.  Reports would be generated, and the numbers would be wrong.  The client would ask why numbers did not match.  Other reporting problems would crop up.  My little mistake created big problems due to the ripple effect of one little command.

That can also be true for our brains when a traumatic event happens, especially if there is a series of small traumatic events.  The effects of less intense traumatic experiences may add up much like my continued use of “ctrl V”.  Despite the size of the traumatic experience or its frequency, the ripple effect in our brains is unknown.  Studies have shown that our resiliency to traumatic experiences is unpredictable, and I assume this may be attributed to the complex functioning of our brains.  Nonetheless, trauma has an effect even if it cannot be predicted.

Another point my database example illustrates is how our brains often wire themselves to a specific behavior pattern that can be difficult to change without intentional effort.  I often refer to this as “the cattle path” quality of the well-known neuroscience phrase “fire together, wire together”.  Much like a cattle path groove that becomes deep and well defined, my brain had strongly mapped the behavior to use “ctrl V”.  The behavior was second nature.  Before I even thought about what I was doing I was using the function, almost like watching myself select the wrong answer.  The embarrassment of calling over to the UK became quite shaming.  I had to work hard to change my automatic response to transferring data.

WIN_20180508_11_49_08_ProThis is how our brain is on trauma!  With repeated trauma, like childhood abuse, our brain maps a strong response to these incidences.  The response can be over excitement of our amygdala (panic center of the brain: fight, flight, or freeze) or under activation of our amygdala that prevents us from keeping ourselves safe.  These maladaptive paths become so strong it is like the deep cattle paths where grass becomes so trampled all you can see now is a groove of dirt.  Cows will not make a new path without the right incentive, bringing their awareness to fresh grass to eat.  Our brains are the same way when healing from trauma.

Telling someone to stop doing whatever automatic response their brain engages in is not helpful.  It does not change the mapping of the brain, and in some cases strengthens the maladaptive mapping.  One of the first things I do with clients who have a significant trauma history is to train, or re-train, their brains what it is like to be relaxed and feel safe.  It is excessively repetitive for a reason.  During the process, client’s may not feel a change.  After several months they notice their thinking is different or their response time to triggers in their life has lengthened so they have more time to decide on a different response.  Sometimes, a few months pass and a client is able to have an “a-ha!” moment they would not be able to experience during their first session.  Fight, flight, or freeze responses would have been too intense to hear or experience an alternate perspective.  After the amygdala has been trained to be calmer, healing work can begin.  The therapeutic work becomes more efficient after a healthy foundation has been established. New wiring.  Productive wiring.

Do you need new wiring?  Do you know someone who could benefit from new wiring?  If you live in the St. Louis Metropolitan area, I would love to help, even if that means helping you find another therapist to walk your journey with you.

Illustration: Changing Your Wiring

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The Yarn Connection for Grief & Trauma

For this activity you will need a few supplies that you can pick up at your local all-in-one market or craft store.  You will need:

  1. Yarn: red, yellow, blue, green, white, black, grey, purple, orangeWIN_20180305_14_38_25_Pro
  2. Small Styrofoam ball
  3. Strong glue
  4. Duct tape (optional)
  5. Paint (optional)

If you choose to use paint, you will need to paint the Styrofoam ball first and give it plenty of time to dry.  Next, you will cut at least six feet of each color of yarn and glue one end to the Styrofoam ball once the paint dries.  If the glue does not stick well to your ball and yarn, you can use strips of duct tape to secure the yarn to the Styrofoam ball.  If you choose not to paint your Styrofoam ball, you could select duct tape in a color that represents your most significant grief or trauma event and use that to wrap the yarn to your Styrofoam ball.  After the yarn is properly secured, wind your yarn around the Styrofoam ball until all the yarn is wrapped around the ball.  Do NOT cut the ends to match up in length.  Leave the ends however they end up.WIN_20180305_14_50_51_Pro

Look at your ball of yarn.  What do you notice?

Start with the longest piece of yarn and slowly begin unwrapping it.  What color does it run into?  Find the start of the second string and start unraveling it.  What does that color run into?  Find the start of the third string.  What does it run into?  Keep doing this until you have completely unraveled the ball of yarn.

Notice how all the colors run into each other as you unravel the ball of yarn.WIN_20180306_13_17_36_Pro

What if I told you the colors are as follows:

Red = anger

Yellow = joy

Blue = sadness

Green = growth

White = peace

Black = fear

Grey = frustration

Purple = anxiety

Orange = confusion

 

Now what do you think of your ball of yarn?

WIN_20180306_13_18_21_ProAs we deal with grief and other traumatic events, our emotional experience is much like this ball of yarn.  We do not simply feel sad and depressed.  We do not feel sad and depressed followed by unending joy.  We vacillate between several positive and unpleasant emotions for quite some time before making peace with our traumatic circumstance.

Are you holding the ball at the middle of your yarn ball?  That Styrofoam ball represents the incident that created such an emotional experience for you.  Death of a loved one.  Abuse.  Car accident.  Financial distress.WIN_20180306_13_19_19_Pro

If you are untangling your ball of yarn and it gets knotted up, reach out for help.  A caring professional is available to help you untangle your knotted ball of yarn.  Some tasks, like untangling yarn, are better achieve with the help of others.  The same is true for grief and trauma.

 

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15 Things to Build Stronger Family Bonds

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  1. Rub lotion on your young child’s hands and feet
  2. Make kabobs together
  3. Bake cookies
  4. Three-legged races
  5. Laundry Relay.  Assign each person a task: remove clothes from dryer, fold, categorize by item and person
  6. Starring Contest
  7. London Bridge is Falling Down
  8. Build a hand tower
  9. Hold a balloon back-to-back and walk it across the room together.
  10. Wheel-barrow racespexels-photo-206480.jpeg
  11. Lead the Blind: One person is blind folded.  The other person puts their hand on the blind-folded person’s shoulder and helps guide them around the room using only verbal instructions.
  12. Make a human railroad track. To move the track around the room, the last person moves to the front.  Once they are in position they announce: ready!  The new last person moves to the front.  Repeat.
  13. Stand in a line.  The last person passes an object to the person in front of them.  Continue passing the object forward until it reaches the person at the front of the line.  The person at the front takes the object to the end of the line.  Repeat.pexels-photo-339619.jpeg
  14. Human chain.  Make a line from the pantry to the chef.  The chef tells the first person in the chain what item they need and that person passes the request down the line until it reaches the person at the pantry.  The person at the pantry passes the item down the line to the chef.  Repeat.
  15. See how many family members you can fit in a hula hoop. Walk the hula hoop around the room.

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The “Boo” in the Taboo that Haunts Miscarriage

7 weeks 2 daysMiscarriage happens every single day.  In fact, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports on their website that 25% of women experience at least one miscarriage during their reproductive years.  That means every fourth woman you see in your daily routine has probably had a miscarriage.

Why, then, is it so difficult to talk about our experiences with miscarriage or to gain more effective support?

Let me throw the first heavy weight on the table.  Many miscarriages happen early and typically resemble an extremely heavy menstrual cycle.  Even during these modern times with so much focus on social justice and breaking down social barriers we still cannot discuss menstruation in most social circles today.  Think about it.  When we have a cold, we can tell our boss that we do not feel well and commonly receive well wishes or understanding.  If you were to tell your supervisor you did not feel well because you have severe cramps and a backache due to menstruation there would be far less sympathy and possibly offense that you dared to bring up such a topic.

Yet, women expFebruary 2007erience menstruation far more often than any illness.  If we cannot talk about menstruation, then how can we possibly talk about an experience that often resembles an intense menstrual cycle?  Therein lies the first problem with lifting the taboo of miscarriage.  Please do not misunderstand me; I am not suggesting we run down the street announcing to the world that we are presently menstruating.  We should, however, be able to acknowledge menstruation is more common than the common cold and experienced with varying levels of discomfort/distress.

The second heavy weight I am throwing onto the table is individual belief systems regarding higher powers, no higher powers, when life begins, who is in charge of who’s body, etc.  Let me reassure you that this post is not political, nor will it try to persuade you of a belief system.  The fact remains that miscarriage forces us to confront our own beliefs and others.  When loved ones in our life do not share our beliefs we may experience some strong feelings toward them that make us uncomfortable.  It may become difficult to talk with loved ones who have different belief systems because it leads to conflict.  Isolation in our grief, or lack of grief, could occur.  Oftentimes, intensity and length of grief post-miscarriage is connected to our belief system regarDecember 2007ding life, though it can also be related to our physical experience.

Out of our belief system stems our ability to comfort, support, condemn, etc.  Our view of life dictates how we view pregnancy, and our loss of one.  Someone who views pregnancy strictly as a matter of science may view miscarriage as a medical situation that is treated much like any other medical circumstance and have minimal grief.  Not believing in life at conception or during any part of pregnancy means you are healing from an injury like any other medical need.  Your uterine lining needs to heal post-excretion/extraction.  Your body’s hormone levels need to return to typical levels, which will often include many side effects.  The physical healing of your body may take up to 90 days.  After your hormone levels return to normal and your physical body heals your experience is over.

Someone with strong convictions about life beginning at conception may view miscarriage as the death of a loved one and experience debilitating grief.  This grief could last for years or be a readily recalled memory long into the future.  Some women have tattoos to remind them of their miscarried child or children.  Some women have memorabilia that reminds them to continually honor the life that was lost, such as an ornament oMarch 2011r framed ultrasound photos.

Then there are those who fall somewhere along the continuum and may or may not be able to manage their grief.  For this reason, every experience of miscarriage is different, even within the same woman.  Grief can become like a developed skill if we experience multiple miscarriages, so each grief experience is unique.  A woman who experiences multiple miscarriages may develop a detached relationship with her grief or she may experience each miscarriage with deeper sorrow each time.

Miscarriages are often different based on the age of the woman who miscarried as well.  Our life experiences impact how we grieve and our resilience to difficult circumstances.  A woman who miscarries in her early 20’s may experience a future miscarriage in her late 30’s very differently.  Same woman.  Different experiences.  Number of weeks gestation can also make a significant impact how a woman grieves.  The same woman could have a miscarriage at five weeks and be unaffected while experiencing debilitating grief over a loss at 20 weeks.

Did she have an ultrasound?  Did she feel the baby move?  Did she know the baby’s chromosomally assigned gender?  How attached did the woman become to her unborn baby or fetus?

 

For reasons mentioned above, it can be difficult to find the support you need during a time of miscarriage.  Family, friends, or other loved ones often say well intentioned, yet hurtful, things during our time of grief because it is either difficult for them as well or they have a different view of our circumstances.  They could also say or do things that are difficult for us to receive due to the cultural or generational context of their personal experiences with miscarriage.

While I do not intend to persuade you of a specific belief system, I do wish to perNovember 2013suade you to reach out to a support group near you if your circumstances make it difficult to feel supported.  In the local Saint Louis Metropolitan area, SHARE offers support groups as well as local hospitals.  As a SHARE trained therapist, I will begin a support group on January 24, 2018.  Please see the details below if you might benefit from this group.

 

Pregnancy and Infant Loss Support Group:

This FREE six-week group is designed to meet the needs of those who have experienced miscarriage, stillbirth, or the death of an infant under one year of age. Collaboratively we will honor the grief of these losses. The group facilitator will lead memory making activities, address navigating challenging interpersonal situations, and provide a safe space to explore those difficult topics that arise. Facilitator will also assist the development of an effective support system through the grieving process.

When: Wednesday @ 6:00pm -7:30pm

Where: Baue Funeral Home, 311 Wood Street,  Dardene Prairie, Missouri 63366

Sign-up: 314-328-4702 or Jessica@comeasyouare.biz

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References:

Baud, D., Goy, G., Osterheld, M., Croxatto, A., Borel, N., Vial, Y….Greub, G. (2014). Role of Waddlia chondrophila Placental Infection in Miscarriage. Emerging Infectious Diseases, 20(3), 460-464. https://dx.doi.org/10.3201/eid2003.131019.

The 12 Patterns of the Holidays

This time of year is filled with holidays across several cultures.  One thing that many cultures have in common is:

holidays = food; family; fellowship/friendshipDSC_0992

With these gatherings comes a wonderful opportunity to teach our children many things, such as social skills, family traditions, following directions, responsibility, etc.  Food preparation is often the hub of such experiences.  Where there is food…. there are people.

If you have a school-aged child, you know all about patterns.  A fantastic way to integrate learning patterns into family fun time is to make kabobs.  Kabobs are a versatile entertaining finger food because there so many options to make them appealing, without excessive utensils.  They also allow for little fingers to help with the food preparations.

Here are 12 ways that you can integrate these traditions with some positive mental health skills building:

Kabob Pattern Core
Apple/Blueberry AB (represents Hanukah colors)
Strawberry/Blueberry/Blueberry ABB
Banana/Strawberry/Mini Marshmallow ABC (Santa’s hat)
Strawberry/Strawberry/Strawberry/Blueberry AAAB
Strawberry/Blueberry/Blueberry/Banana ABBC
Yellow Cheese/White Cheese AB
Yellow Cheese/Pepper Jack Cheese/Pepper Jack Cheese ABB
Red Pepper/Orange Pepper/Yellow Pepper ABC
Pepper/Mushroom/Mushroom/Tomato ABBC
Marshmallow/Strawberry AB
Marshmallow/Strawberry/Banana ABC
Strawberry/Pound Cake/Pound Cake ABB

Why should you bother to consider making kabobs in your family?  It is simple.  Food brings people together over non-controversial topics, if you are focused on the food’s preparation.  There are little steps within collaborative food preparation that naturally build strong attachments between family members and strengthen social skills.Santa Hat

When you give instructions to children, you should always look them in the eyes.  This often means you must stoop a little or ask them to look up at you.  Intentional eye contact is one of the key ingredients for healthy attachment, which builds a child’s resilience to life’s ups and downs.  Making good eye contact is also an importance social skill that will benefit your children as they enter adulthood and the workforce.

Another way attachment is strengthened when making a dish such as kabobs is that there is opportunity to collide hands, arms, and shoulders as you reach for the same item.  This is healthy, safe touch which often leads to laughter.  It’s possible to become hyper-focused on the pattern you are making.  When you and another person reach for a strawberry out of the same bowl, your hands run into each other and you are brought back to the awareness of others around you.  This incident also creates an opportunity to practice appropriate social skills.  Saying excuse me.  Negotiating turn taking. Saying thank you.  Problem solving if there is only one strawberry left in the bowl.  The horrors….DSC_1004

Direction following and responsibility may be targeted by how you set up the activity.  One option is to make a sample of what you want and ask your children to copy it.  In order to follow the directions, your children must exercise self-regulation.  Another option is to assign each child with a certain pattern and ask them to make a specific number of kabobs using the designated pattern core.  After a set number are made, switch the pattern core they are responsible for creating.  You could also use full-sized kabab skewers for some patterns and extra long toothpicks for others.  This requires your children to concentrate, forcing eye contact, communication skills, self-regulation, etc.

Happy pattern making!