Dr. Robin: You forgot someone on your gift list!

November 29, 2019

How’s your to-do list coming for December? You know the one – all your loved ones listed and the gifts you plan to buy each one. After them, you have all the service providers you plan to buy holiday thank-you’s for – teachers, stylists, postal workers, dog sitter. Add work colleagues after that. And any holiday party White Elephant gifts. And maybe gifts for charities you support during the holidays like Giving Trees or food pantries. And once you get through most of your list, and are starting to breathe a bit easier, you know someone {insert significant other, spouse, child, mother-in-law, sibling} will ask you if you’d mind picking up something for someone they need a gift for. It’s not even my list but I’m exhausted just thinking about your list!

But it seems like you forgot someone on your gift giving list. Can you think of who? (I’ll wait for you to scour your brain and your list in a desperate attempt to double check…)

YOU!

Where are you on your gift giving list?

Are you chuckling at this idea? Thinking that it’s silly or frivolous? That if you’re going to get a present, it should be from someone else? That you don’t have time to think about getting yourself something when your gift giving list could challenge Santa’s list? Or maybe you’re thinking you don’t deserve a present for whatever reason. If you’re putting time and energy to thinking about how to acknowledge those people in your life whom you love or appreciate for the things they do for you, why wouldn’t those two factors apply to you? Why wouldn’t you recognize the special person you are and show yourself appreciation for all you do?

Now I am not telling you to head out to your nearest jewelry store to buy a Rolex. Or to go buy the fun Jeep at the dealership you’ve been driving past each day on the way to work. Or to book a solo cruise to the Mediterranean. (Although if any of those are comfortably within your cash budget, you certainly don’t need my permission…) Giving yourself a gift this month can be simple as long as it is meaningful to you.

So what gift will you give to yourself? Maybe it’s to start that class at the gym that you’ve been wanting to try, but keep letting everyone else’s schedule get in your way. Maybe it’s to meet a friend for coffee once a month, starting this month. Maybe it’s setting aside 30 minutes a day to explore options for new changes – a job you’d really enjoy, a volunteer organization to get involved with, a hobby you’ve always wanted to try, a new hair style. Maybe it’s putting into your calendar 30 minutes a day to just breathe, meditate or read a book. It doesn’t matter what you choose as long as you choose the gift to yourself in the same way you choose gifts for the other special people in your life.

As the gift giver, my guess is you put thought into each gift, thinking about what each person would most love to receive and what best suits that person. You then give the gift unconditionally, with the basic idea of bringing happiness to that person. You can do the same for yourself.

And as the gift receiver, you accept the gift from yourself as you hope others accept the gifts you select for them – without guilt or feelings of obligation. You hope your recipients feel special and appreciated by the gifts you give them. It is not only okay, but wonderful, for you to create those same feelings in yourself from yourself.

So I dare you to add yourself to your gift giving list. (Yes, actually write your name on the list, in pen.) Then have as much fun thinking about what to give yourself as you have in thinking about what gifts would make other people in your life smile. Remember your gift to you can be anything you want that works within your life as long as it is in recognition of the amazing person you are. (Read those words again…and maybe again, slower.)

Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah, Happy Kwanzaa, Happy Boxing Day, and any joyful holiday or celebration you have in December!

Just a little something for your insight. – Dr. Robin

Dr. Robin: When is the best time for therapy?

November 3, 2019

My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer 16 years ago. She was a nurse which is part of the reason she religiously saw her gynecologist and went for yearly mammograms. But it wasn’t the doctor or the test which found her breast cancer. It was my mom, doing her own monthly breast exam. She found two tiny lumps her doctor had missed and were too small to be picked up by the mammogram. In fact, her doctor tried to convince her that she couldn’t have felt anything so small, so my mom pushed back and wouldn’t be dissuaded by the doctor. After further testing, it was discovered that she did in fact have cancer – 4 types and the cancer was in both breasts. She went for chemo and radiation and ended up surviving.

Why do I share this story? When it comes to physical illnesses, we understand that early detection and intervention is paramount. While my mom did go through chemo and radiation, if she hadn’t found the cancer when she did, at best, it would’ve meant a longer treatment plan and, at worst, it would’ve meant the cancer could have grown or spread too far for treatment to save her.

This doesn’t take much convincing, does it? We feel a pain in our eye, we go see an ophthalmologist. We feel a pain in our heart, we go see a cardiologist. Pain in our knee? Orthopedic specialist. There is no questioning that physical pain should be addressed and the benefits of addressing the symptoms early are almost common sense.

So what about psychological pain? Anxiety, depression or other mental illness? A frequent question I get asked is, “When is the best time to go for therapy?” I typically respond that therapy is important and can help whenever we feel the symptoms related to emotional or psychological challenges. But the “best time”? It is the same answer as in the examples mentioned above. The best time for therapy is as soon as we notice the psychological pain. Just like physical symptoms, the longer a person waits to see a specialist (in this case, a licensed mental health counselor, therapist, social worker or psychologist), the worse the symptoms get. Therapeutic treatment becomes more intensive. The treatment timeline might get longer. Would you wait to see a physician if a mild pain in your leg became a sharp stabbing pain? What if the pain got so bad you couldn’t walk? What if it spread to both legs? Most of us read this and immediately know that there would be no way we would wait much past the mild-pain-getting-worse phase. Then why do we wait to get help when our psychological pain goes from mild to moderate? Or moderate to severe? Or until it is at a level which detrimentally impacts our functioning? Wouldn’t it be easier and feel better to get help when the psychological pain is mild, an annoyance that is distracting and making us feel “not like ourselves”? The best time for therapy is early in the dysfunctional experience, when the symptoms are mild, and easier to treat; when we are still functional enough to actively engage in the treatment, rather than having to work through bigger symptoms before the treatment can really be effective.

Keep in mind this visual. You try to plug a small hole in a dam. You can feel the pressure of the water, but you fix the hole early and the pressure subsides. Now imagine the same hole and you ignore it. The pressure of the water keeps pressing on the dam and the hole gets bigger. You continue to ignore it and the hole continues to get bigger, or smaller holes pop in the wall, and more water escapes. The longer you wait to deal with the expanding hole or the little holes popping up, the worse the situation gets.

So when you feel like you aren’t functioning at your optimal place…

Or when anxiety or depression start filtering into your daily experience…

Or when you realize that something isn’t quite right when it comes to your emotions or your thoughts…

These are the times to get the support you need, to intervene early, and get back to YOU quicker. And if anyone asks you why you are seeing a mental health professional, just tell them that you’d rather deal with a little leak than a rupture which floods the entire valley of your life.

Just something for your own insight. – Dr. Robin