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Everything I Need to Know I Learned at my High School Reunion
Recently my high school graduating class celebrated its 30th reunion. This was an extravagant three day affair that began at a waterside bar, set sail on a lavish dinner cruise down the Intracoastal Waterway, and concluded with an event at the beach. I must explain that I went to high school in one of the best places on the planet, Jupiter, FL. If you don’t know Jupiter let me give you a brief summary-it is a bustling area, close to big cities yet far enough to keep a small town feel. Bordered by the Intracoastal Waterway, the Loxahatchee River, and the Atlantic Ocean, Jupiter boasts some of the best beaches in Florida. The sunsets are amazing, the bars and restaurants are plentiful, and the people are warm and friendly-in a word, paradise.
I wasn’t sure what this weekend would bring. I was hoping for a fun, relaxing time to connect with old friends. I was impressed by the organization and the way everyone came together to commemorate our time in high school, celebrating the past and the present. But, what I was most inspired by was what I learned from this reunion that I can take with me into the future.
Change is good-our school changed, the town changed, and we changed and that was okay. Change is good; we benefit in many ways from change. Change in one’s life can create challenges and challenges create opportunities for personal growth. By embracing small changes that we have control over we gather strength and learn to more easily accept the big changes in which we have no control.
Happiness is not always measured by staying the same; it can also be measured by how much we change. In the infamous words of Helen Keller "When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us."
Friendships are a vital part of life-looking around at the events I was thrilled to see so many people that I could call a friend. According to Mayo clinic “Good friends are good for your health. Friends can help you celebrate good times and provide support during bad times. Friends prevent loneliness and give you a chance to offer needed companionship. Friends can also increase your sense of belonging and purpose; boost your happiness and reduce stress; improve your self-confidence and self-worth; help you cope with traumas, such as divorce, serious illness, job loss or the death of a loved one; and encourage you to change or avoid unhealthy lifestyle habits.”[i]
Friendships can take on a variety of forms from casual relationships to those that reside on a deep emotional level, and everything in between. Friends that exist on an emotional plan are life-long and no matter how often you see these people you can always pick up right where you left off. These are the friends that I call “old shoes.” Always comfortable, always interested, and always there when you need them.
The weekend wasn’t long enough to connect with everyone who attended my reunion. There were many I did not have the pleasure of catching up with and this resonated with many of my classmates. For those who I missed, I hope to catch up another time. Whatever your friendships, grasp them and bask in the joy that they bring.
Life is better at the beach-or really just near the water. Not only is water essential for survival it also offers mental and emotional benefits.
“Marine biologist, Wallace J. Nichols, believes that we all have a ‘blue mind’ -- as he puts it, ‘a mildly meditative state characterized by calm, peacefulness, unity, and a sense of general happiness and satisfaction with life in the moment’ -- that's triggered when we're in or near water.
‘We are beginning to learn that our brains are hardwired to react positively to water and that being near it can calm and connect us, increase innovation and insight, and even heal what's broken,’ Nichols writes in Blue Mind: The Surprising Science That Shows How Being Near, In, On, or Under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected, and Better at What You Do.”[ii]
Maybe it was fate or just good planning that every event during the weekend was on or around the water. From the waterside bar, to the dinner cruise, and finally the beach we spent an enormous amount of the weekend surrounded by water. With each breath we absorbed the negative ions created by the movement of the water and entered a state of serenity. Maybe that is why everyone is saying that the weekend was amazing.
You can go home again-Thomas Wolfe wrote the novel “You Can’t Go Home Again” portraying the message that you can’t recover the past. Maybe to go home again you don’t need to recover the past, but instead look at it fondly and make a future to remember. Going home again can be a wonderful, fulfilling experience. It may seem that attending a celebration of a time as immature adolescents would be a horrifying experience, but instead it made me realize just how far I have traversed since I was seventeen and this was truly an enlightening experience.
Planning is everything-organizing an event of any kind can be overwhelming, especially when you don’t even know who will be on your list of attendees. From finding “lost” classmates to designing artistic t-shirts and table centerpieces to coordinating hotel rooms and a charter cruise, the reunion was expertly planned and supervised. There were many people who helped with this event and one specific person who lead the way; I would like to thank each and every one of you, without your insight and ingenuity it would not have been a weekend to remember.
May we all make a conscious effort to keep in touch with our friends, accept change, and spend more time near the water.
I'm an honored to have been chosen to be interviewed by Stephanie Hopkins for the B.R.A.G. Medallion award. Please follow to the link to view the interview.
My son turned 21 today. There have been many days in the past when I did not think he would live to see another birthday. He lives with severe depression, suicidal thoughts, and sometimes psychosis. He lives and he is thriving. Some days I don’t know where he finds the strength, yet he does. He is a fighter.
There have been times when he has said to me-
“I don’t want to start over, I just want to finish.”
“I don’t want to go on, I just want to give up.”
“I don’t want to feel this way anymore, I just want to die.”
And he hasn’t quit. He has gone on to establish a life for himself, a life that he has chosen on a path of his making and he is happy.
A year and a half ago, my son was struggling to find a reason to live. I stepped back instead of charging forward. I stood by my boundaries instead of caving in. I took a risk instead of taking over. And because I did and because of the steps he took something shifted in him. He changed, he grew, and he found a reason to live. This was not an easy thing to do for either of us. My son had spent 17 months in residential psychiatric treatment, he had learned many positive skills to help him cope, and he knew the boundaries that were in place. I wanted to coddle him and protect him, but that was no longer healthy for me and no longer helpful for him. He had to take responsibility for himself. It could have been the wrong choice, but at that moment it wasn’t the wrong choice.
I asked my son months ago about that difficult time in his life and he said, “I never want to be in that place again.”
September is suicide awareness month. Knowing the signs of suicide can save a life. There are fantastic organizations dedicated to suicide awareness on my resources page.
Remember that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. No one knows what life will bring in the next hour, day, week, month or year.
My daughter sent me a link to this amazing poem by Meggie Royer who looks at suicide from a different perspective. Please check out her work.
The most powerful comment I saw about this piece was from a man who’s brother completed suicide and he said, “He didn’t end his pain, he just passed it on.”
I love my son very much and want the best and brightest future for him. A future that he choices for himself and one that creates happiness and peace in his life.
I always thought I was a good parent.
Someone who patiently listened to her child read their first "chapter" book in school.
Someone who checked for "monsters" under the bed.
Someone who was a shoulder to cry on and gave words of advice.
But somewhere along the way, when my son's depression was so severe that he couldn't get out of bed or all he could think about was dying, I became a different kind of parent.
A parent that made choices for my child.
A parent that followed him at every step.
A parent that was utterly devoted to her child to the detriment of my own self, a co-dependent parent.
The co-dependency didn’t happen overnight, it was a gradual immersion that developed out of necessity. Then it became easier to do everything for my child instead of risk upsetting him or causing him anxiety.
My co-dependency reminded me of a time when my son was 7 or 8 years old and he went snorkeling with his father and me. He enjoyed snorkeling and was a good swimmer, but I still made him wear those inflatable armbands. We started in shallow water and then ventured out to deeper water. My son was fine at first until he realized that he couldn’t touch the ground and he panicked. In his panic he thrashed around, grabbed at me, and pushed me under the water. He was on top of me when I surfaced, shoving me under again. When I came up the second time coughing and gasping for air I knew that I risked drowning if I didn’t react quickly. It wasn’t until I pushed my son away from me and allowed him to swim on his own that I was safe.
This story summed up my co-dependent relationship with my son. He needed to “swim” on his own. It was no longer safe or healthy for me to continue supporting him in the way that I had.
If I continued to run his life, he would continue to let me, and he would not learn how to take responsibility for himself and grow emotionally. It was a lesson both of us needed to learn.
With the help of a counselor, I learned how to communicate with my son without feeling like he always wanted something from me. It helped me validate him, rather than try to solve his problem, and when I didn’t know what to say, I would tell him I didn’t know what to say. He accepted that answer easier than I had thought he would.
Our relationship changed from an enabling one to a nurturing one. This shift didn’t happen immediately, it was a slow process spanning several months, but it did happen. While maintaining boundaries, I was able to let my son handle decisions for himself, validating him and allowing him to feel pride in his accomplishments.
When I remained strong, I showed my son that he could be strong too. I knew he would have to make serious choices for himself and his health in the future, when he was on his own, and with each decision he made now, the future ones became attainable.
A co-dependent relationship is not a healthy relationship for either party. Stand back, let your children learn from their mistakes while making choices on their own. Allow them to become the independent, self-sufficient adults they need to be.
This is the latest review on Amazon. 5 stars and so touching. Thank you Cheryl
I read this book many months ago but the words on the pages continue to float through my mind daily and in my dreams at night. The depth that Theresa reaches with her words are life changing. Mental Illness at any age is difficult but to experience it at such a young age is heart breaking. Being a teenager is tough enough and parenting those teenagers is a challenge on any given day. Add mental illness to the challenge and many people would cave in and/or give up. Theresa's determination and unrelenting love for her son teaches us all what being a parent is all about. Loving unconditionally! Matthew's determination to continue his daily survival and defeat his demons may be a life long struggle but knowing he has his mom in his corner must give him the reassurance he needs to know life is worth living. This book has such a powerful message and should be read by all.
Thank you Tabrizia Jones for this 4 Star review of "Cutting the Soul"
Theresa Larsen's uphill battle with her son's mental illness emotionally and beautifully discusses an issue that unfortunately doesn't get the attention that it deserves. I'm not saying that this was not an easy read and I'm not just discussing the uncomfortable and descriptive details of Matthew's trials. But difficult for someone who has suffered through mental illness, like myself. I needed to read this, not just to be informed, but for my own well being. Like both Matthew and Theresa discovered, I wasn't alone in my struggles.
Usually when you read about mental illness, it's always in the point of view of, in this case I will say, the patient. So it is refreshing to read someone's experience dealing with a close relative's mental illness. When you hear about a person suffering through depression and other mental disorders, you always concentrate on how it is affecting that person, but you rarely think twice on how it affects the whole family. You truly don't understand the physical and emotional toil it puts on a family, the financial burden that they have to go through. When reading this memoir, it is a huge eye opener. Reading about Larsen's experiences proves why this issue needs to be openly discussed and backed, especially from insurance companies. This is an important issue that just cannot be set aside.
Larsen's emotions are radiating from these pages. You can feel her pain when she sees her son at his worst. You can feel her frustration when she sometimes loses hope. You can feel her fear when she thinks that every time she visits her son it will be for the last time. I applaud Larsen for writing Matthew's and her family's struggles. It must be very difficult for her to relive these painful experiences. But I think it was necessary. It might have been cathartic for her but her story needed to be told for others to know that you are not alone in this and there's hope at the end of the tunnel.
Larsen refers back to Matthew's writings from his journal and even though it was uncomfortable to read at times due to its dark nature, I believe it was very important. You are reading what Larsen is going through which is vital but you need to know what Matthew is going through in his own words and you get that through his journal writings.
If you are uncomfortable reading about dark, personal matters, then this memoir may not be for you. But I hope you change your mind because in my opinion, I feel that this is a type of book that everyone should read. This is an important issue that should definitely not be bypassed.
My latest article on PsychCentral grew from a conversation I had with the parent of a transgender child. It discusses the challenges of this transition for parents and why they feel talking about it is difficult. Check it out on the link below.
I am always looking for ways to be healthier and happier, so when I saw this infographic I wanted to share it. It gives a variety tips, from mind to body, on how to be increase your mood.
Click on the link to check it out.
Please click on the link to read my latest article on Psych Central.
"Cutting the Soul" is live on USA Book News
My teenage son took a knife out of the kitchen drawer. Feeling stripped of power and control, he believed the only thing he had left was pain. Behind the locked door of his room he began with his left arm. With each slice he traded his emotional anguish for physical pain. It was just enough to suppress his desire to die. An inch into the pain, a mile into the suffering.
I discovered my son was cutting after he gouged his hand severely enough to require stitches. It was only after I asked him to wash his hands, and I pulled up his sleeves, that I saw the other marks.
What did I do wrong as a parent?
That is what I asked myself. I was angry and confused. Why would he cut himself? Why would anyone want to deliberately hurt themselves? What I didn’t know was that his internal pain was far greater than anything he could have done to himself physically. I didn’t know that he had been suffering inside for many years and that he had buried his misery deeper and deeper only to have it turn into self-hatred and spill out from self-inflicted wounds. I didn’t know that watching himself bleed helped him feel real, in control, and sane. I didn’t know that every day my child fought to keep himself alive. Every day he won his battle and I never knew there was a fight.
After the anger vanished, I wondered why I didn’t notice that my child needed help. I wondered why he didn’t or couldn’t or wouldn’t come to me and tell me about his torment.
That is when the blame started.
I blamed myself for not being a good enough mother. I blamed myself that my sweet boy didn’t think I would understand how he felt. I blamed myself that maybe I was too busy or too self-involved or too anything other than the “perfect mother.” I blamed myself that I didn’t know. I believed I should have known. This was my child. Wasn’t I supposed to have some kind of intuition about these things? Wasn’t I supposed to protect my child from all the harm that came into his life, but how could I protect him from himself? How could I take away my child’s pain when I didn’t even know it was there?
How does a parent of a self-harmer heal from the physical pain inflicted on their soul? One small step at a time.
I had many steps to take and lessons to learn along the way. I learned how to validate my son’s feelings so he felt heard, acknowledged, understood, and accepted. I learned that I needed counseling just as much as he did. I learned that I could not fix his behavior; he would have to want to do that for himself. I learned that I didn’t have to be the “perfect mother,” just one that listened to what her child had to say, didn’t judge the choices he made, and loved him unconditionally.
With each step I not only helped myself, but I helped my son. I stood by his side, I helped him through difficult times, I counseled him, and I also reluctantly stood back and let him make mistakes, and each time he faltered, each time he fell, he would get up and start over.
I learned that being a parent wasn’t what I had dreamed it would be, instead it was painful, brutal, arduous, and exhausting. But being a parent was also rewarding and fulfilling and no matter what obstacles I had to face, being a parent always required love and acceptance, that is a true parent, where you learn that you can trade pain for love.
I recently had a conversation with a woman who is a parent coach. She is "coaching and educating parents on the parent-teen relationship, letting go of the need to control, how to help kids become super problem-solvers, infusing values into parenting. . .in other words, how to raise teens to confident, self-sufficient adulthood and maintain your sanity along the way."
This is such important work in today's society where parents want to hover and smooth the path of their children, thus taking away daily learning experiences. All parents need to learn these skills so that we can send the next generation of leaders into the world prepared to lead and not just follow.
Also have a look at her recent article on lessons she learned from parenting.
Yay! Psych Central has published another one of my articles-so psyched, pun intended.
I have been writing a lot of articles recently and I am not able to post the full article on my own site, so please follow the link to read my latest publication on Psych Central. Comments are appreciated, let me know what you think.
This short film about anger and mindfulness is excellent, please take four minutes to watch it.
I was asked this question recently and thought it was worth posting.
What are your views on treatment for mental health conditions?
Mental health wellness should encompass a multitude of treatment programs from medical to holistic. I do not think only one remedy is right for the recovery of someone who is diagnosed with a mental illness. Treatment should be approached from many angles such as exercise, nutrition, medication, skills training, talk therapy, art, and music. Incorporating a number of life skills with therapeutic skills gives the person with an illness a greater chance of moving forward to a place of life-long healing.
One size fits all does not work for mental health treatment. Explore multiple options and have a variety of skills and options in your toolbox.
The B.R.A.G. Medallion selection process:
"All ebooks brought to the attention of indieBRAG, LLC are subjected to a rigorous selection process. This entails an initial screening to ensure that the author's work meets certain minimum standards of quality and content. This initial screening may involve a review of sample chapters available on Amazon.com (or other on-line booksellers), or portions of the nominated ebook. IndieBRAG, LLC reserves the right to reject an ebook during this initial screening assessment for any reason in indieBRAG, LLC's sole discretion. If it passes this preliminary assessment, it is then read by members drawn from our global reader group. They judge the merits of the book based on a comprehensive list of criteria, including;
On average, 50% of the books submitted to us fail to pass the initial screen and another 40% are subsequently rejected by our readers. Thus, only 10% of the books we consider are awarded our B.R.A.G. Medallion and are presented on our website."
Thank you for this honor.
Go to their site to read mental health blogs
My son experiences major depressive disorder, anxiety, and occasional psychosis. Last week he stood in front of a large group of people at a funeral and gave an eloquent, articulate, and heartfelt speech. Later that day someone said, “He looks so normal, you would never know that he had any problems.”
What is normal?
According to the online dictionary the word normal means to conform to the standard or the common type; usual; not abnormal; regular; natural. When talking about psychology the word means approximately average in any psychological trait, as intelligence, personality, or emotional adjustment.
“Approximately average” is not what I strive for in life. I hope that no one strives to be approximately average. So why do we wish to be normal? During some of my son’s darkest times he did just that, “I just want to be normal,” he said. And his counselor responded, “Maybe you need to redefine what normal is.” We need to do more than redefine normal; we need to stop using the word.
Instead of describing someone as normal we should talk about people in terms of personality or strides they have taken. For example you could say, “He is well spoken, he has a varied vocabulary, he writes well, he makes a presence in a room, he works hard, he is interesting, polite, humorous, soft-spoken, kind, or any number of adjectives, but please, not normal.
When experiencing a mental illness wish for health, happiness, creativity, resourcefulness or strength, but please don’t wish to be normal.
The renowned psychiatrist and psychotherapist Carl Jung said, “To be normal is the ideal aim of the unsuccessful.” Jung was determined to live his life in an uncompromisingly unique way. Don’t compromise to live a normal life. Reach high, aim for uniqueness, and don’t be normal.
I had an article published in The World of Psychology on PsychCentral about the importance of the words we use when talking about mental illness. Please follow the link below to read the article.
One of the final writing assignments my son had before he completed residential treatment was to tell about his childhood abuse. He decided to put his words into a poem. This poem is also in Cutting the Soul, but I felt it needed a spotlight of its own.
"It started out as a simple game of truth or dare, but who would've known where it could've gone from there?
With eagerness on the brain and innocence in his heart, a young boy took the first step and played the part.
A role as the victim is what they would say, and the boy blames himself to this very day.
And cutting himself in every which way, he truly believed this made him gay.
If only he knew the weight of his decision and stopped the self-harm at the first incision.
If only he'd objected, refused from the start, then there'd be no play and he'd have no part.
A few seconds, that's all it took, for his life to be changed, rearranged, and shook.
The art of pain he has now perfected, hurting himself was how he projected.
A riddle for the wise, a poem for the poor, his family doesn't recall, but the boy's keeping score.
And now that the deed is done and squared away, the boy will keep on living, day after day.
A new start and a fresh beginning, life isn't a game, but if it were, I'd be winning."
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