Saturday, December 28, 2019

One tweak made my year a much happier one

Talking to Target makes me happy
You know how it is: at New Year you're determined to have a relaxed time and be a better person but by February you're uptight and back to being stressed and bad tempered. This year, I've managed to do a little better and it was surprisingly easy.

I've written about happiness scheduling before. This year, I've put it into practice. Basically, the theory goes like this: we schedule shitty things like dental appointments and bill paying but we dismiss the fun stuff like chatting with friends or going for a walk. So, with the happiness scheduling system, you focus on shoving the fun bits back into your life.

I now spend a few minutes every morning consciously enjoying the moment. On Mondays, I chat with a friend for an hour and afterwards Target and I go outside to have a purr and to listen to the birds. For the rest of the week, I have my coffee while the cats breakfast, and then Target and I sit outside.

Basically, that's it! Just taking a few minutes out to connect with nature and cat purrs is enough to give me a happy boost.


Although it's super simple, it's surprising how often I'm tempted to skip it because I have things to do. Dull things like write up notes. But I catch myself and remind myself that I deserve to have fun.



Target is the chief office snoopervisor
After all, life is for living and enjoying, otherwise, what's the point?

I know it but between you and me, that focusing on the joy thing can be awkward. I sometimes feel a right twit. I catch myself thinking, "Sheesh, Ellen. Conscious appreciation of joy. Seriously? What's next? Astrology and retro-phrenology?" because I'm a skeptical, cynical person.

But, I'm also super practical and this stuff works. Over the year it's become a part of my day, boosting me. And as the habit has matured, I'm not trying to talk myself back into bad habits anymore either.

So there you go. I'm sharing in the hope that it helps you.

PS, I don't think the cat is a vital part of the scheduling, but it sure helps!



NOTE: I'm a counselling psychologist working online via live video conversation over Skype, WhatsApp, Facetime and Messenger video. You can contact me via PM or send an email to happy@lepak.com

Sunday, December 8, 2019

I'm dreading Christmas. Do I have to go home?

It's that time of year again where we celebrate the awesomeness of families.  But if your home is more like Arrested Development meets Jax Teller's family from Sons of Anarchy, then this will be a super tricky period.


Talking about mean families is taboo, especially during big holidays. While child abuse, emotional abuse and physical abuse is rampant, many 'nice' people prefer to close their eyes to all that nastiness. They go about, refuting the idea that not all of us have a warm loving home.

So if you want to talk about your emotions and circumstances, you might hear incredibly stupid, and downright dangerous advice like,

"They're your family, forgive them."
"They don't mean it. Just don't listen."
"You must have done something. Just pray and be good to them."

And that's how you end up in hospital because mummy dearest went overboard this time with the beating or daddy finally convinced you that you're so worthless you actually went and slit your wrists.

If your family are horrible, this post is to help you navigate through some decisions and to offer you some practical advice.

#1 HOW TO DECIDE IF YOU GO OR OPT OUT
The pressure to go home and act as if you're a Disney family where all is peace and love can be overwhelming. Also, abusive families tend to do a good job into conditioning victims to keep coming back for more. And their helpful enablers are there to guilt you into it, too.

That's why you end up talking yourself into going home, only to get there and think, "Doh!  How did I forget?"

Now we're a few weeks away, I think it's important to ask a series of questions.
If you go:
·         Are you in physical danger, as in does you family hit, slap or threaten violence?
·         Will your family harass or tease you until you are visibly upset and/or can't take it anymore?
·         Do your family treat your partner like rubbish?
If you can say yes to any of these, then my question would be, why go? If they can't even meet this low standard of human decency, you are under no obligation to put yourself or your partner into such awful circumstances.

If you decide to skip it, here's how to do it with minimum fuss.
1.       Don't announce your intentions in advance. If you say you're not going, you get all the flying monkeys, the screaming hordes who think it's best for you to go and have a terrible time because it suits their notions of 'what looks right'. Plan not to go, and keep it secret so you're not pressured.
2.       On the day, send a text and claim you missed the flight, bus or had to go into work. Then switch off your phone. Then do what makes you happy. If that means tickets to the beach resort, awesome!
3.       After the holiday, you can choose to engage and reset the rules. Or you can choose to walk away for a year or forever.
4.       Remember: your family don't own you. Disengaging can take some doing (you may need to move home or switch phone numbers) but there are lots of people who are estranged and they thrive.  Just make sure you're safe as you go about it.

#2 IF YOU WANT TO GO BUT LIMIT YOUR ENGAGEMENT
(This is also the system for if you skip this holiday and then engage later but want to change the rules)
Start by thinking over what usually happens. Like, most families have a set pattern of behaviour that governs the abuse.

It starts with the soup. Mum serves up a bowl and Dad will point out that I'm too fat and should skip this. Ten minutes later, they're both telling me I won't marry, am in the wrong career, and basically that if I were just completely different, they'd be much happier.

Run the last few times they went at you through your head and work out how they work.
Now work out what the abuse does to you.
You must warn the family in advance where your boundaries are, so write it down.
Then resolve what you will do if it happens. Like, one warning and then you leave.
Finally, and this is the tough step, you need to announce your new hard limits. This is best done via text.

To follow our example, you'd text to mum and dad:

"Mum, Dad, this year I want no personal remarks about my body, my career or anything else. It's not 'advice' and it's not helpful. It's just mean."

They won't take it lying down. Abusive people enjoy their power and they will gaslight you, harass you, play the victim and more. Expect,

"You're so sensitive."
"You're our child. You're not allowed to tell us what to do. "
"We never say things like that. You're imagining it. Also, your mum has fainted from your totally false accusations."

And the text from Uncle Ken who rants, "You're so ungrateful! I'm disgusted by you!"

Remember: at this point you can still choose not to go. Seeing you've opened the conversation, you may consider being up front, "If you feel that way, I'll skip this year." Or, just say nothing and on the day tell them you won't be there.

If they promise better behaviour, then you need to go to step two: harness your support group.

You may have uncles, aunts, cousins or friends who attend who will back you up when the abuse starts. Talk to them in advance so they know what's going to happen. If trouble strikes, they may defend you but most likely they will only be willing to redirect the conversation.

"Dad, I told you, no personal remarks. They're hurtful. Aunt Peg, do tell me about your garden. How's it going?"

Alternatively, have a friend or two who is on your side stand by on text.

Finally, remember that if your boundaries are ignored, you must do as you said and leave. This is important because your family need to learn that you are serious about demanding respect.  

Leaving is best done in style. Don't yell or scream, just exit. Again, abusive families will pretend to be sick, have fits, hurt themselves and will threaten to cut you off forever. Don't fall for their playacting! If you go back, they'll bully you until the end of your life.  Just keep going.

Walking out once won't fix it but if you keep walking out when they're being mean, they will eventually learn to behave themselves.

I know it's tough and you may be scared of what they will do. But believe me, it's better to be away from all that hurt than volunteering for it. I hope this helps.

Photo Credit: Image by Peter Dargatz from Pixabay

Monday, November 4, 2019

Why you shouldn't trust too much in depression inventories


Depression inventories, the quizzes that 'rate' depression and give you a score, are all over the Internet. If you've been a bit scared to take one, or have had a result that frightens you, please read on.

First off, there are dozens of inventories, some of which you can take free of charge and others that you have to pay for.

One of the most famous free ones is the Patient Health Questionnaire – Nine Item (PHQ-9) It looks at the classic nine symptoms of depression (sleep issues, low mood etc) One of the most famous ones you have to pay for is Beck's Depression Inventory (BDI) that questions 21 issues associated with depression (sense of failure, self-dissatisfaction, guilt etc).

Is longer and expensive better than simple and cheap? Well, not necessarily.


Both the PHQ9 and BDI are recognized as awesome tools as have dozens of others inventories.

So if one works as well as the other, why do we have so many?  

Some of the reasons include:
·         There are different theories about how depression works, and
·         Depression doesn't come in one shape or form, it affects people differently, and
·         Because scientists like to make up their own stuff so they become famous (and maybe have people pay them money for their discoveries and inventories)

Are all depression inventories totally awesome and foolproof? No, absolutely not.

For one thing, inventories tend to lack context.  For example, you may have had two weeks where you've cried your eyes out every day, have no appetite, no energy, are lower than earthworms in your mood and can't concentrate on a thing.

An inventory might say BIG DEPRESSION SCORE! And hit the panic button. But what if someone close to you just passed away 15 days before?  In that case your symptoms would be grief, not depression.

Also, as the inventories typically rely on self-reporting there are problems with accuracy. For one thing, your idea of low mood may be different than mine. Also, it relies on your memory being accurate. If you're like me and you've no idea what you were feeling last week Wednesday, reporting properly can be tricky.

There are also lots of other issues to consider but as we're not writing a book here, these are some of the main points.

So why do we take depression inventories? Because they're an awesome basis for conversation.

When you talk to your doctor or mental health professional, an inventory is just part of the assessment.

You'll be asked all kinds of other questions like when you last had a medical checkup, whether you're on any medications, what kind of major life events you've experienced in the last year – and much more.(you can read more about that here)

A pro needs to figure out if you are depressed, and if so, what is the likely cause. Then they need to figure out the best path to get you back to happy. In short, it's not a whap-wham-fill-out-the-quiz-and-whoopie-doo-we-know-where-you're-at-and-how-to-fix-you situation.

So, if you think you are depressed, do take one of those online quizzes but don't worry too much about the score. Treat it as a basis for a good think.

And if you suspect you are depressed, go and see your family doctor, psychologist, psychiatrist or mental health professional to have the proper conversation.

TIP: if you're talking to someone who asks you a handful of questions and then hands you a conclusion, RUN! Depression assessment is not to be taken lightly. And while I hate to say it, there are cons, quacks and greedy buggers with no principles who prey on frightened people.  You can read up on how to avoid those here

If in doubt, go to a public hospital. It's not foolproof but it's the best bet that you get someone with the right training.

Contact me if you've questions, and I'll do my best to answer.

Photo Credit: Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay