The Change Blog

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The Change Blog

This blog will feature important mental health information from our therapist and counselors. The information includes strategies, techniques, and subjects that can help individuals and families. Click the button below to subscribe and get updates.


Anxiety: The Abusive Bully

Anxiety is the ugly beast, like an abusive partner or a toxic parent, that causes you to feel like you can’t do things you want to do, when there’s no reason for it. For some with social anxiety, going to the grocery store might be the equivalent to jumping out of an airplane without a parachute. Others with separation anxiety (mostly seen in kids with parents), someone walking out the door can cause traumatic reactions resulting in hyperventilating, loss of breath, rapid heart rate, and feelings of panic. The DSM 5 (Psychology bible) lists 12 different types of anxiety and they can be caused for all sorts of reasons and in a myriad of ways.

First of all, what is anxiety? It is my belief that we inherit it from our ancestors who used to have to build their own shelters, hunt for their food, and had wild animals chasing after them. Throughout the years, our brains evolved in many ways, except for the constant “scanning” of these dangerous situations. The brain, for hundreds of years, became accustomed to (and prepared for) danger, and reacted accordingly. Today, when we can rent an apartment, go to a grocery store for food, and rarely see animals in the wild (depending on where you live), those threats aren’t there. But the fear of the threat still is. And anxiety was born.

Instead of furiously searching for materials to provide a cover before the storm hits, “I’m afraid of crowds”. “If I don’t kill that dear my family will starve this week” turns into “I can’t do public speaking”. Seeing that bear dangerously close to your campground becomes being unable to work for an hour because of a panic attack that pops up for no known reason. Most of us are not regularly in dangerous situations, yet the anxiety produces a mirage that creates the fear that we are.

A dear friend of mine (also a therapist) once described Generalized Anxiety Disorder as an “electric undercurrent”. Whenever the day goes quiet, it’s there, lurking like a stalker around the corner, reminding you that you’re never truly safe, even though logic tells you that there’s no reason to worry. When things are going well, it’s that tap on your shoulder reminding you to look behind you because you never know what’s waiting behind the curtains. And “logic” goes out the window because, no matter how much you KNOW everything is fine, you can’t BELIEVE that anything is alright.

Another form of anxiety is panic, which is a whole other level. Panic simulates a hear attack and a lot of people end up in the ER, only to be told that there’s nothing wrong with them. Rapid heart rate, loss of breath, feeling claustrophobic, shaky hands, sweaty palms, tight chest, and overwhelming feelings of “doom and gloom” are just some of the symptoms of a panic attack. A lot of the time, people feel that they are dying when they have one of these attacks. These attacks can last from 30 minutes up to several hours, rendering the person helpless and unable to do much else other than curling up into a ball and rocking back and forth.

So now that we’ve learned a bit about anxiety and panic, what can we do about it?

I’ve found that there are 3 coping skills that work best: distraction, mindfulness, and deep breathing. Distraction techniques, in my opinion, work best because they take your mind off the “fight or flight” response and land it on a more neutral ground. My favorite distraction technique is one I call “54321”:

5 things you can see

5 things you can hear (you can create noises, like snapping, clapping, or tapping)

5 things you can feel (items of clothing, things you can touch around you)

Then 4, then 3, then 2, then 1.

Doing this uses both sides of your brain, and when you concentrate on it, it’s hard to think about anything else.

Mindfulness techniques are effective for the same reason. One of my favorite ones is called “narration”. For example, when you’re washing dishes you narrate every step you make in the process. “I’m turning on the water with my hand just below, waiting until it gets warm enough, now I’m picking up a plate and holding it underneath the water. I pick up the dishwash detergent and squeeze it onto the plate. Now I’m picking up the cloth and running it in circles around the plate until it’s clean. I set the cloth down and rinse off the plate in the warm water until the soap is gone and then I place it on the dry rack.”

I like mindfulness skills because they take you out of fretting over the past, worrying about the future, and put you in the present.

Deep breathing is another effective way to cope with anxiety or panic. You might try doing a deep inhale, followed by 3 quick exhales, or just be mindful of breathing in very deeply and then exhaling the same way. This is another distraction technique that assists in relaxation and calming the mind.

Another thing that helps is remembering that anxiety and panic episodes are TEMPORARY. Remind yourself that this is only going to last for so long and will soon pass. Try self-soothing talk and say things to yourself as you would to a loved one going through it. “You will get through this.” “This is only temporary.” “Everything is alright.” Listen to music that is either soothing or upbeat to get back to your safe space. Remember that your brain is tricking you into believing that you are in danger when, in fact, you are not. Your brain has done a proper scan for threats, found nothing, and is now “creating” a danger when none is there.

I hope this helps you. And remember to always be kind to one another. 

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Remembering Pulse

Remembering PULSE

June 12, 2016

That Sunday morning, I woke up annoyed. My Facebook messages started around 5AM. This is not unusual because I have family and friends in England. Even though I live in Orlando, if there is a disaster in New York, they message me to ask if I’m OK because they don’t understand the distance and forget the 5 hours ahead, they are in time. Without looking at my phone, I rolled my eyes and pulled the covers over my head. Then the facebook messages turned into texts, then a phone call. The phone call was from my neighbor and friend, Meegan. She was also my co-worker at the time, where we worked at one of the main LGBT organizations in Orlando.

Before seeing any of the other texts or messages, I answered her call, afraid something was wrong with her or her 5 year old daughter, Rylan. Meegan said: “Hey, I know you’re in bed, but you need to get here right away”. Without asking questions, I put on my glasses and headed over to find them on the couch watching the news. Meegan was crying and Rylan had a “dear-in-the-headlights” look. I joined them on the couch and watched and couldn’t believe what I was hearing and seeing. “24 confirmed dead at the PULSE nightclub from a shooting last night”.

Before long, I got a text from our supervisor at the time, asking me to come to The Center. Back home, I had the news on and was in my bathroom putting on make-up. Looking back, I have no idea why I would be wearing mascara at that time, but that was what I was doing when I heard the count go up to 50 and I broke down crying and had to sit down and bury my face in toilet paper as I sobbed.

When I walked into The Center, it was like walking into the center of a bee hive. A woman approached me and asked if I was there to give help or get help. When I couldn’t answer, she just hugged me. Eventually, I found my way to the back room where all the mental health counselors were and I stood there, like a wallflower, still in shock as others buzzed around me making schedules on spreadsheets and calling around to find places for make-shift therapy rooms. I felt so powerless, like I was still asleep, floating on a raft in the ocean to nowhere in the night with the moon barely guiding the way.

After a couple of hours, I asked my supervisor what I could do and he said: “Go home and get some rest. We’re going to have a lot of hard work ahead of us for the unforeseeable future”. So I kept my brunch plans with my other neighbor, Lisa, and our friend, Sheri. We sat outside at Santiago’s, my “happy place”, and downed quite a few cranberry mimosas. But I couldn’t eat. I was a zombie, staring off into space, as the two of them discussed the tragedy. Quietly, and finally, I said to them: “I’m supposed to be the one who can put a positive spin on everything and give people hope. For this though?” I shook my head. “I’ve got nothing.”

As it turned out, I didn’t know any of the 49. Over the next year, however, I came to know a lot about each of them. I met their families, talked to them at memorials and in our waiting room, and hugged their necks as they cried. I met their friends, who had guilt for surviving that night, or deciding at the last minute not to go to the club, or had left just before. I heard their stories. I had clients I would check in on, try to encourage, help them process what happened and how to deal with it, and then I would use my 10 minute breaks crying into a Kleenex and then trying to freshen up and find my center for the next one.

It took me a while to figure out how to react to this, approach it, deal with it, advise others how to deal with it. Three years later, I’m still not sure.

Going back to that dreadful morning, I remember Rylan tearing up when she saw me cry. She had never seen me cry before and it scared her. I told her this: “When I was your age, I used to watch a show called ‘Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood’. And I remember reading a post from him that, when he was little, he saw a horrible act committed on tv and became very upset. And his Mom told him: ‘Look around for the people that are helping. There are always more people helping.’ Today, I want you to pay attention to the people that are helping.”

And for the months to come, that’s what I saw, too. And so that I did not feel so helpless, I tried to be one of the ones helping too. We stood in assembly lines from the back door at The Center to trucks several feet away, loading 24-packs of water in the hot Orlando sun in June and July. People from every color, culture, religion, and spectrum of the LGBT, working together, holding hands, giving hugs when they could tell someone needed it. And it was a beautiful thing. It had always been there before, in my perfect little bubble, where I live in Mills 50 and worked in downtown Orlando, in the LGBT community. But it somehow became richer, fuller, Stronger, prouder, better.

In that time, I learned more about the shooter as well. He was a Muslim who lived in a small, sleepy beach community south of Orlando with a wife and kid, in the closet. He wasn’t a terrorist, he wasn’t targeting Hispanics, he was trying to kill something he hated in himself. And he wanted to go down in history as the orchestrator of the biggest massacre in the US. I’m not forgiving or forgetting him, and I’m certainly not excusing him. But I can’t help but to wonder how things might have turned out differently if he had come to our organization, or any other, to get help. I had other Muslim clients following the tragedy, trying to come out as gay in their family and community, and I saw the struggle they faced and sensed the torment they felt over it.

Three years later, after endless processing and commiserating, sleepless nights, lack of appetite, journaling, hearing the stories and witnessing the fallout…I realize that we are not “safe” anywhere. We could be in a theatre enjoying a funny movie, in class learning algebra, at work trying to help people, at church worshipping whatever god, at our homes on our front porch, and we are never safe. I don’t say that to be negative or instill fear. I say that to be realistic.

However, we cannot stop living our lives for fear of what might happen. If anything, the PULSE massacre made the LGBT community in Orlando even stronger than ever before. And the support that we had from around the world was extraordinary. Vigils took place in Rome, London, Paris, Berlin, and countless others, all in support of our “little” community. There was little to comfort me that whole year after it happened, but seeing the signs all around Orlando that read “Orlando United”, “Love is Love” and “Orlando Strong”, reminded me that the only thing that ever “wins” is love.

I still remember and think of, not just the 49, but their families, friends, pets, and loved ones. I often think about all those affected, from the people who survived that night, the families of those that didn’t, the staff at the club, the staff at the nearby Dunkin Donuts, Wendy’s, 7-11, the residents in that area that I talked to, our own staff, people that almost went there that night, people who had just left, or people who were simply affected because it happened in our own back yard. And, on this day, 3 years later, I wish us ALL, peace, comfort, hope, support, and love.

And I want to remind us all: “Look around for the people helping. There are always more people helping.””I hope this helps you. And remember to always be kind to one another. 

Marriage is Communication 

Marriage is communication!

Marriage is a great way to show the one you love that you plan on staying together till death do you part. It is a lifelong commitment that two people make to each other. It is actually a beautiful concept in which two people decide that they will share every aspect of each other’s life from this day forward. A great deal of money is spent in the process and celebration of marriage. According to www.costofwedding .com the average wedding cost is between $19,984 and $ 33,306. Wow! That equates to a very nice car that should last you 10 years. It should be worth it because you will spend the rest of your life with this person, Right?

Forever or for the rest of one’s life feels like a long time. This is true in a huge number of marriages end in divorce. Yes, the big D word happens a lot more than it should. Depending on what research you are looking at marriages in the U.S have a 50 percent divorce rate. Now this does not mean that half of all marriages are doomed. The 50 percent is from new yearly marriages ( This is still a big number we are talking about. Why is this the trend and how can we slow it down. There is no one answers solution to marriage but there are things partners can do to assure the marriage stays a happy partnership. The Huffington post has an article that states the top ten reasons people become divorce. The ten top reasons included:

• Getting in for the wrong reasons

• Lack of individual identity

• Becoming lost in the roles

• Not having a shared vision of success

• Intimacy disappears

• Unmet expectations

• Finances

• Being out of touch

• Different priorities and interest

• Inability to resolve conflicts (Payne, Olver & Roth 2015)

The surprising part is that in the top ten infidelities is nowhere to be seen. While looking at the list it becomes obvious that most of the problems that lead to divorce come from the lack of communication. Most of these problems could have been resolved or helped by creating a communication dialogue between the partners. This means that couples need to learn how to communicate. If this communication is gone seek professional help. In the field of marriage therapy there are many techniques to re-establish communication. Avoid being part of the statistics and seek help before it’s too late. Communication needs to happen regularly with all relationships. If you live with a person for long periods of time it’s quite normal to argue and become tired of certain behaviors. What is not normal is throwing it all away because you refuse to lose an argument or refuse to honestly communicate. Communication is the key so talk about it or get a professional to help you talk about it.

The 10 Most Common Reasons People Get Divorced 

Self-Destructive Behaviors: Why Do We Have Them and Why Do We Tolerate Others That Do?

Self-Destructive Behaviors: Why Do We Have Them and Why Do We Tolerate Others That Do?

Let’s face it. We ALL have some forms of self-destructive patterns. They can range from slightly annoying to down-right debilitating. Some people who suffer from this engage in behaviors that make relationships difficult, while others end up in prison. It can be hard to determine where you or a loved one fits on the scale and if/when action needs to be taken to do something about it.

The first thing most people think of when it comes to this topic is addiction. Someone who smokes cigarettes knows that it is bad for them, may try to stop, but still give in to the craving knowing that doing so could produce undesired effects such as cancer, costing money, or other health issues. While this behavior is not illegal and isn’t going to land anyone in jail, it is still serious. Other addictions, such as drug use, might range anywhere from a bad habit to completely irrational behavior that can cause car accidents, DUI’s, incarceration, loss of relationships with loved ones, and even death. Yet people still abuse substances knowing the potential consequences.

Addictions don’t always involve substances. People can be addicted to food, sex, gambling, caffeine, and a host of other things. While overeating can result in weight gain and bad health, people still go for that bag of chips, and often find they’ve eaten the whole bag in one sitting. Whoops! This is not likely to affect others, but for the person engaging in the behavior, there could be devastating consequences. Addictions to sex could lead to STD’s, unwanted pregnancies, divorce, and engaging in dangerous situations and environments.

But not all self-destructive behaviors come from addictions. Some are prone to anger or have road rage or just like to fight with others. Believe me when I tell you that I have worked with many people who thrive on “drama”. They usually start out the session saying, “I absolutely hate drama, but it always has a way of finding me”. People find they “can’t” stop lying, cheating, stealing, sleeping too much, not sleeping enough, abusing their children, abusing their partner, driving too fast, putting themselves in harm’s way, cutting, drinking too many soft drinks a day, spending too much money, avoiding those that they love, among many other things.

People always want to know the one-word, big-question: “WHY?” A better question is to ask yourself what you would do with the “why”? Sometimes knowing why can help curb the behavior. For example, I had a client state that he can never make relationships last and he had no idea why. After some processing we realized that there was nothing wrong with HIM, but that he tried to “save” people (what my Mom calls taking in stray cats) and would attract self-destructive guys, tolerate their bad behavior, and the relationship would inevitably end. Knowing this increased his awareness and he was able to spot the red flags, dodge the bullets, and develop more healthy relationships.

But sometimes the “why” doesn’t matter. I’ve seen many physically and mentally healthy people get into car accidents and become addicted to pain pills. I’ve worked with alcoholics and drug abusers who, after processing, realize it “runs in the family”. Not everyone with issues with addiction or anger have had a bad life, come from an abusive family, or have ever experienced any trauma at all. Sometimes, it just IS WHAT IT IS.

So if you’re the one with the self-destructive behavior, here are the questions you should ask:

• On a scale of 1-10 (10 being the most severe), how much is it impacting your everyday life in a negative way?

• Are there ways in which I “get in trouble” for the behavior? (Such as with your partner or loved ones, with the law, or with your job.)

• On a scale of 1-10, how severe are the consequences? (Weight gain, financial duress, loss of relationships or jobs, etc.)

Depending on your answers, you might seek treatment through a rehab, outpatient facility, support group, support system, and/or therapy.

If you have someone in your life who has self-destructive behaviors, you might ask:

• On a scale of 1-10, how much is the behavior impacting your everyday life in a negative way?

• Do the negatives outweigh the positives?

• How much does this person mean to me and what would it mean to lose them?

At the end of the day, how to approach these behaviors depends on the severity of them and what it’s costing the person doing or tolerating them. However, there is always an opportunity to change, improve, and get better – regardless of the behavior. It’s never too late to turn it around.

I hope this helps!