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Rain, Rain Go Away!

Rain, Rain Go Away!

What to do if the past year feels too present.

A year has passed since the Baton Rouge area was devastated by flooding. In many ways, it seems like a lifetime ago and in others it seems like last week. Now, with many in the area having connections to loved ones in Houston and watching that area go through what we are all familiar with, emotions are running high for some of us. And today…even though Pat Shingleton says we will only have 3-6 inches of rain between now and Saturday, some of us are still a little on edge. I know I am!

It’s all a little too familiar. A little too close to home. Area men are loading up their boats and heading over. We are gathering supplies. We are doling out mold remediation advice. This is not something we want to be pros at. And yet we are.

If you’re feeling anxious or depressed (or both) today, you are not alone. If your coping strategies have given out on you (again), you are not the only one. Recently the Advocate posted this article about the ongoing mental health crisis in Louisiana as a result of the flood. So many are still actively needing support. Whatever was hard in your life before the flood got even harder after. Whatever happened this year that would have been hard anyway felt about 100x harder just because of the ongoing stress of the flood. I get it. I’ve lived it, too.

I evacuated from a block on St. Charles in New Orleans for Katrina and relocated to Baton Rouge (sorry for being part of the traffic problem in 2005!). Our home in Denham had 4.5 feet of water in it last year. My parents home in Walker flooded. And my brother’s house flooded last night in Houston. I know we’re not handing out prizes…but I get it, y’all.

The rules for staying stable remain in effect.

  • Deal with your own stuff first, then move on to “other” care.
    • This goes for physical issues as well as emotional.
    • If you’re not in a solid enough place, helping with others can be risky. Airplane rules apply here: put on your own oxygen mask before trying to help others put on theirs, or else no one will have what they need to keep going.
    • Engage in self-care. This doesn’t just mean getting a pedicure, although I’m sure no one will complain about that! Find some quiet space for yourself. Turn your phone off. Unplug. Do what fills your soul.
    • Mind your self-medicating choices (drinking, shopping, over-eating, binge watching TV, etc. etc.). These could get really dysfunctional, really quickly.
  • Be patient with those around you.
    • Tensions are still high (especially when it’s raining…rain is a trigger).
    • People are doing their best. We need the most connection and support when we are behave the worst.
    • Lead with empathy. Make molehills out of mountains instead of vice versa.
  • Stay connected with those who care about you.
    • People who are involved in the same mess you are and those on the outside. Sometimes it’s just good to talk about the Real Housewives of Dallas.
    • This includes God. Even when you’re mad and questioning why this keeps happening…he can take it.
    • Don’t isolate, even if you want to. If you already have, start back in with the person who you think will be happiest to see you and fix you supper.
  • Get outside support if necessary.
    • If you’re thinking, “wow…that was a tough year…I wonder if I should talk about it with someone?” Or, “I just feel like I should be doing better by now.” Or, “I do better for a while but every time it rains hard I get anxious.” Or something else along those lines…YES. Come in.
    • If you feel forgotten, worn out, over extended, pushed aside, in over your head…come in. We can’t make the flood go away, but we an redistribute some of the weight. There are no trophies for agonizingly slowly pulling yourself up by your water-logged boot straps.
    • The best thing I personally did this year to help me process our family’s flood experience was that I received some therapy called EMDR or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. It’s really perfect for PTSD type issues, which this flood totally was for so many of us. I went from getting that sense of dread washing over me every time I thought about what we had endured to the automatic thought of “wow…I’ve really overcome some tough stuff!” and feeling proud of myself when I think about our flood story.
    • Here’s a link if you’re interested in learning more about EMDR. I completed my basic training in EMDR and my clients have been loving the process. It is very effective on a myriad of issues and I’ll write more about it on a later (dryer) date. But if you research it a bit and feel like it could be helpful to you, give me a call. I have offices in Baton Rouge and Walker and I’d be glad to talk with you!

I am praying for our community today and for what’s happening in Houston. Being a human is hard! We are fragile creatures and we need each other so much. May God be merciful.

The Ongoing Gifts of the Flood of 2016

The flood gave and the flood took away.

Are you currently rebuilding your house? So many of us in the greater Baton Rouge area (my family included) are still waist deep in the process of rebuilding our flooded homes. We’re now six months post-flood…which in some ways seems like a lifetime ago but some aspects will always seem like they happened yesterday.

The Flood Gave.

At Spring Life Counseling, LLC I am still seeing a big influx of clients for whom the flood was the straw that broke the camel’s back. The flood waters either exacerbated pre-existing issues beyond people’s ability to cope, or it exposed issues that were hiding in the dark. People aren’t necessarily coming in to talk about the trauma of wading through the waters as much as how the flood has taxed them beyond their abilities to keep their marriages, their families or their own selves afloat.

Substance abuse, sexual addictions, anxiety, depression, debt, angry teens, codependency, memories of past traumas, intense marital arguments over the color of the paint (that are really about how one of you never really feels heard or respected)…you name it…the flood has exposed it. That is one of the gifts of the flood. For issues coming to the surface so that they can be addressed, I suppose we ought to be thankful, but while you’re in the midst of the muck, it’s really hard to see the silver lining.

The Flood Took Away.

Along with bringing some things to light, it also took away some things from us. It took away convenience. Security. Coping strategies. Jobs. Normalcy. A sense of home. The list goes on.

When things come to the light, it’s an immediate step towards health. It doesn’t feel good, but you’re better off for it. The next steps are crucial. Seeking the help of a professional counselor can be crucial in getting you from exposure of an issue or wound to walking through the healing process.

When things are taken away from us, we need to grieve them and seek to find a new sense of normalcy. It’s 6 months after but for many the process of dealing with the unexpected and unwanted gifts of the flood is still in the beginning stages.

The best thing you can do after a tragedy is to connect with others. Connection is the antidote for a lot of the wounds of trauma. There is no reason you have to walk through this season alone.

If you think you may need some help talking through some of the issues mentioned in this post, please contact me. I have offices in Livingston Parish and Baton Rouge.

For those who are interested, here is a post I wrote about how I’m praying for those of us affected by the flood.

The Great Flood of 2016: How We Get Through This

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In the last few weeks, so much of what makes our lives “normal” in the greater Baton Rouge area has been smashed to a million tiny pieces. Everything…and I mean everything…has changed. Everything is hard. Nothing is right. It has stretched us beyond what most of us thought we could endure. This entire region has experienced a trauma the likes of which few have ever lived through.

Yet here we are. Here you sit using your phone, tablet or computer, reading this blog. Many of us have survived a reality that made our worst nightmares seem like a walk in the park. Yet here we are.

I began my therapy career in 2006 with a counseling practice called Counseling Services of New Orleans, Inc. My first clients to ever counsel were in the throes of “post-Katrina syndrome.” I, myself, had evacuated the rent house I shared with fellow graduate students off of Carondelet in the beautiful Garden District in NOLA. It was over a month before I was able to return home to see what few possessions I still had to my name. The next few years I spent burning up I-10, driving back and forth from Baton Rouge to New Orleans, finishing my masters program and seeing clients. Walking with people through the same trauma I experienced.

And here I am again.

Flooded. Broken. Mending. Seeking to offer empathy and to be a support for a painful situation that I feel oddly equipped to handle.

Since experience is the best teacher, here are some things I’ve learned from losing everything (twice) and through helping others walk through this process.

Time markers and clarity. For those of us who were around for Katrina, we have this simple way of categorizing our lives: before and after Katrina. There are very few events in life that drop such a big time marker down in the middle of your life like that. People may use that type of language after the death of an extremely close loved one, like a child or spouse, or if they came to faith late in life.  Now, we all will have this new time marker: pre and post flood.  The thing about these time markers is that they bring a lot of clarity. Not only does it order our lives chronologically, it also tends to clarify our priorities. Let this flood help you see your life through a simpler, clearer lens than ever before. Take it for the clean slate that it is meant to be.

Same problems, different day. If you were having difficulties in your marriage prior to the flood, you may have experienced a brief cooling of the tensions but that’s probably worn off by now and you’re arguing at levels that are bigger and worse than before. Whatever limits you’d run into with your parenting abilities before the flood, those are heightened now. Substance abuse problem that you were trying to “handle” before? The cat’s out of the bag now. Were you easily angered before? Angry at God before all this went down? Money management issues? Watch out, friend! Everything that was an issue before…let’s just say that the flood waters were flammable and the stress of this situation will light your issues on fire. You might have been “getting by” with some of these issues for a while, but by this point you’ve exceeded your capacity to handle it on your own. Come get some help. Let the flood be used to bring health and freedom into your life. Contact me because I’d love to walk with you through what is holding you back from the life you’ve always wanted.

New trauma brings up old trauma. When you experience a new trauma (for instance, having to be rescued by the Cajun Navy and taken to a make-shift shelter), you are often able to access other trauma memories that you typically attempt to not think about much. If your memories all live in the same building, trauma all lives on the same hallway. Once you’re in the hallway, you can typically access the other rooms as well, even if it’s difficult to do so on a regular day. So after Katrina, I’d meet with people who had experienced the hurricane and then remembered old sexual abuse from childhood. If you’re experiencing something like this, it’s totally normal and how your brain is designed to work, but you shouldn’t have to walk through that alone. I’d love to help.

Self-care. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times, “This is a marathon, not a sprint.” In a sprint, you just put your head down and do the thing. A marathon requires more strategy and refueling along the way. If you haven’t experienced this reality already, you will soon: you can’t just rebuild 24/7. There are set-backs, waiting periods, back orders, yes. But even if those frustrations weren’t in play, the process of rebuilding your home is so emotionally taxing that you must focus on self-care intermittently, or you will lose it. Lose your pleasant personality. Lose your cool. Lose your grip on what’s most important. Everything. We have to force ourselves to take time off from rebuilding every so often or else you won’t have what it takes to finish strong…in whatever way you’d define that. Even if your home didn’t flood, you need to take breaks in helping others, too. We all need to take care of ourselves so that we can take care of our kids, our spouses, our parents, our neighbors. If we don’t take care of ourselves, we can’t take care of anyone else for very long. A few months ago I wrote blogs on grieving well here and here. We are all grieving right now. Make sure you’re doing your best to process it well instead of numb the pain or suppress it. Also, if you just need a reminder of why and how to fight for joy, check out this old post as well.

Connection. Listen up because this is very important. The research indicates that the best way to battle the despair of a tragedy and to combat traumatic stress (post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD) is to refuse to go through the aftermath alone. Share your stories of how you got out of your house. Share the logistics and the emotions. Share your frustrations. Share your fears. Share the stuff that makes you wonder if you’re “crazy” to think. Share what’s keeping you up at night. Find someone you trust and force yourself to share. It is a safeguard to you emotionally and it is a safeguard to them as well. People need to know that they aren’t alone. People need to know that they are needed. If your home didn’t flood, don’t be afraid to ask questions and follow up when you’re able. Become awesome at listening with empathy. By sharing our stories, we connect in a real and tangible way, and do ourselves and each other a world of good for our bodies, minds and souls.

If you’re having a difficult time feeling like you’re managing your life following the flood, I’d really love to meet with you. I’ve been “here” before and I want to help see you through to the other side of this crisis. My Walker and Denham Springs offices have both flooded, but I have a new office on Old Hammond and I still have my mid-city office off Government Street. I’m offering a discount to those who have been directly impacted by the flooding, and I am still in-network with Blue Cross and Blue Shield insurance. In terms of reaching out for help, the sooner you do, the better. Don’t wait to get the support you need. Lots of people are having reactions that would be considered “abnormal” in our pre-flood world. But we’re all just responding the best we can to a totally abnormal situation. It’s ok not to be ok, but you don’t have to be there alone.
PHOTO CREDIT: Kimberly Meadowlark, Meadowlark Artistry: Faces of the Floodwater Collection.

How to Grieve When Someone You Love Dies

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“Some things in life cannot be fixed. They can only be carried.” –Megan Devine

Someone I love died this week. My sweet friend, Julie McGill Bauman. 

Because helping other people deal with grief helps me deal with my own, I want to share some of my thoughts and feelings as I wade through this process, and while it is fresh on my heart and mind.

I’ve written on grief in a broader sense a few times, but because I believe it’s something we all should do regularly and a thing no one does very well, I feel like it’s a topic I’ll come back to again and again. I generally use “grief” in a pretty broad sense (meaning anything from grieving a job loss, to a break up, to a dream…etc.) but today we will exclusively be using the word as it pertains to death. Wretched, awful, impossible to resolve…death.

Sometimes grieving someone’s death starts before they die. This was true for me in regards to Julie, if only briefly. A few weeks ago, I spoke on the phone with her, when she found out that her first round of surgery and chemo had been effective in dealing with the cancer they knew about, but not in preventing new cancer from growing. At this point, she said, “they’re calling it ‘terminal’ but still acting like it could be treated for several years. I’ll just always be fighting it to some degree or another.” I took that to mean that there would be a difficult road ahead, but a road ahead nonetheless. I told her, “Well…no matter what happens, I want you to know that I won’t be afraid and pull away. So call me any time for whatever.” <Silence.> “Ok.”

This brings me to my first point of what to do when you’re grieving: Be brave. Even when you’re scared. Look your fear in the eye. You won’t regret showing up and being present.

I fully believe that the above comments between Julie and I was the reason she called me last Sunday night late. She could hardly speak but we connected one last time. At that point, I still didn’t understand how dyer the situation was. But she did, and I’m so thankful she knew I’d answer, even though I was afraid when my phone rang.

The second thing to do when you’re grieving a death: Don’t disengage to self protect. Of course you’ll want to disengage and at times you’ll need to. (I had to see some clients a few hours after learning of Julie’s death.) But return to your grief frequently and fully until the intensity subsides, and then regularly, to see it through. Your alternative here is to numb your pain. And truly, no goodness comes from that. You don’t do yourself or the one you love any favors by attempting to minimize your loss in any way. If you avoid it and stuff it down, it’ll crop back up in some way, and it won’t be positive. Weep and eat. This is the essence of grieving.

Mourning death happens in the midst of regular life. You’re processing in between loads of laundry and making lunch. Some moments are filled with grief and others look surprising like your every day life, in the midst of your heartache. This is normal. Processing death is incredibly non-linear. Do what you need to do, but return to the loss, rather than just daily tasks to disengage and distract yourself.

Some of you reading this may be closer to the epicenter of the loss, and therefore you find the idea of “mourning in the midst of regular life” impossible right now. I understand. Take your time. Be kind to yourself. Stay in the darkness as long as it takes until you feel like you can come up for air. There is no fixing this…only managing the loss. Each day that you’re able, do the next logical thing. Once the initial shock begins to wear off, the path forward will eventually emerge. I wish there were better news to tell you. I’m sorry.

The third thing to do when you’re grieving a death: Mourn your own way. Nobody had the relationship that you had with the person you lost. Whether you’re her mom, her sister-in-law, her niece, her coworker, her favorite checker at the grocery store, her friend who lived 10 hours away: you had a specific relationship with the one who died. So mourn in a way that fits your relationship with your loved one, and mourn in a way that fits your personality. Some people are “together” mourners. Other are “alone” mourners. Some need to “do stuff” and others need to sit shiva. Whatever is an authentic expression of your grief…do it. And don’t judge others for doing what they need to do. There is no prize for being the best mourner. There is no exclusion for being the worst. Just stay in your lane, honor your relationship and mourn your own way. Fully. And to the best of your ability.

Lastly, don’t minimize your pain or that of another’s with cheap platitudes. “Everything happens for a reason.” “Heaven needed another angel.” “She’s better off.” “God’s got a bigger plan.”

What a complete load of crap.

These statements are either meant to minimize the loss so that the speaker can feel more comfortable, and/or they imply intent, which is very shaky ground theologically. God sometimes brings beauty from ashes. However, this was not the intent of the fire, but rather in spite of the fire.

Death is awful. God knows this full well. Don’t try to fix it. Just learn to carry it.

This list is not exhaustive. There is no right or wrong way to grieve. We all just need to give it our best shot. May we all honor our loved ones as we learn to carry on with our lives.

Counseling with a person removed from your grief can be a helpful option. If ever I can be of assistance, please contact me here.

Julie McGill Bauman

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A Eulogy

In August of last year, I texted with Julie about what a total B her uterus has always been to her, and how glad I was that she was finally being evicted from Julie’s body. We talked and texted a handful of times since then, some about marriage & kids, but mostly about emotionally processing her having cancer. The genesis of our friendship was at grad school in the marriage and family therapy program in New Orleans. I met her briefly in 2005 before Katrina (the original B) came and swept everything away. And once the school got back up and running, we became fast friends.

I liked Julie right away. She’s the type of person who is good at everything she does. She’s very smart, capable and competent. You explain something once and it’s locked and loaded from then on out. She is very easy to be friends with. Funny and lighthearted. More than a little inappropriate…like me.

She’s a very skilled therapist. We basically “dug around” in each other’s lives, trying on different therapy techniques, and that’s how we got to know each other so well. That’s when I realized how amazing and beautiful of a person Julie was. When we weren’t being ammature therapists out of our depth, our conversations were full of witty musings on life, and deep heart talks about what it means to be an flawed, Image-bearing human after the Fall, and how to love King Jesus with our whole, whole hearts.

We often joked about opening a therapy practice together called “Straight Shooters, LLC” where we would wear western themed outfits like fringed swede vests and denim skirts, and “tell it like it is” to our clients. Because being a little ridiculous while maintaining our therapeutic integrity was the language of our friendship.

Our friendship was one where nothing was unsafe to talk about and nothing was left unsaid. I trusted her in every way. She could be counted on. My name was safe on her lips. My story was safe in her heart. She would always agree if I thought someone was being stupid or annoying, and then subtly offer a wise perspective. I had the comforting, unwavering confidence that I could hand off anything in my life to her, big or small, not give it a second thought, and know it was better off in her hands than mine. I know she took care of all her people this way.

I can’t fully describe what a deep gift to my soul she gave me: to be known, unconditionally accepted and fully supported…better than a good bra. I trust Julie. It’s a simple sentence but a profound truth that resonates to my core. And to lose a person who is that much of a safety net, even if you didn’t need them to come through all that often, is just a hard, hard blow.

I don’t know what to say about Nate. I don’t know what to say about the babies. My only solace right at this moment is that sometimes the harder things are in life, the easier it is to find Jesus in the mess. The rest of my heart is all jumbled up with questions that have no good answers.

I have lost a piece of me, but I am so deeply grateful and forever changed to have fully given you that piece.

May we take the lessons of Julie’s life and love for Jesus and incorporate them into the marrow of who we are.

The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you. The Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace. Amen.

Riding the Roller Coaster

Everyone experiences grief and loss regularly, yet few know how to tackle it effectively. Let’s look at some ways people make grief unnecessarily hard for themselves and also how riding the roller coaster of grief can be one of the healthiest and most freeing experiences of your life.

Grief and loss can come in all shapes and sizes. Big losses, little losses. Losses that anyone else would consider minuscule that feel huge to you…or that anyone else would consider huge that feel minuscule to you. Lies from a friend, a layoff, death, divorce, a break-up, abuse, raising a child with special abilities and needs, an affair, a miscarriage, the loss of sense of safety, loss of hope…I could go on. Even disappointments are losses that need to be grieved to some extent. Too often we take the “man up” approach to processing these losses, thinking the best thing to do is move on quickly. Or, perhaps we feel entirely overwhelmed and confused by how to process our grief well…it seems too big of a task to handle with no clear road map as to how to get there.

The process of grieving rarely makes sense and hardly ever progresses in a straight line. I’ve sat in counseling sessions with people who recount their fifth adoption falling through as if they’re reading from a newspaper but the same individual crumbles into pieces on my couch telling about the death of their pet bird. Grief doesn’t make sense. The way we express it doesn’t make sense. The way we process our losses doesn’t make sense. So why do we expect the experience to be nice and tidy? The only thing of any real worth in grief is intending to stay on the path of processing our losses as they come…not avoiding them, not intellectualizing them and not making an idol out of them. There are tons of ways to grieve well. The only way to do it wrong is to attempt to not do it at all.

How do people grieve “wrongly?”

Attempts at avoiding the grief or intellectualizing the loss are what I see most often. “My dad died last week but I took a day off work dealt with it so I’m ready to move” would be an example of someone avoiding grief by attempting to rush through it.  Additionally, people tend to diminish the severity of the loss and minimize it (“It was Only my uncle…dog…foot…whatever.” or “It could’ve been worse…other people have gone through worse things.”). Both of these techniques negate the impact of the event on your heart, shoving your emotions to the side. Please be assured: if this is your technique of choice, your emotions will pop up again in one way or another…not at a time of your choosing or in a way you would want. Anger, depression, anxiety, irritability, isolation, addiction are all ways that unexpressed emotions can make their presence known in your life.

How do people grieve “correctly?”

The best way to process losses…big or small…is to just ride the roller coaster. This doesn’t mean you have to be a complete zoo as you work through your grief. What it looks like practically is to let the waves of anger, sadness, hilarity, desire for connection, desire for alone time, etc. all unfold as they come. Don’t judge yourself for where you’re at in the process. Just be where you are and continue to ride the roller coaster until it comes to a stop. If you allow yourself to experience grief on its own terms, the roller coaster will come to an end much quicker than if you continually deny the impact of the loss or attempt to rush through the process. Losses take time to heal and in most cases, life will largely go on while you’re riding the roller coaster. It’s more of an attitude of inward grace and bravery as you don’t shy away from looking at the pain. It’s a kindness to yourself to let the weight of the loss rest on you as long as it needs to. It won’t stay forever, but if you let it touch your soul, it could be one of the most freeing experiences of your life.

Anytime you are stuck in a loss and not sure how to continue processing your emotions, please either talk to someone you care about or set up a time to come in for a therapy session. You’d be surprised how helpful another set of eyes can be on an issue like this. I’ve only just begun to unpack some of my thoughts on this diverse topic. Check back soon for a post on how all losses live in the same building in your head, why we tend process grief in spurts or chunks, and what I think the point of grief ultimately is…my answer may surprise you!