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Following the recent passing of my father much has been swirling around in my mind. I’ve attempted several blog posts in an effort to share with you some of the things I’ve learned in the past few weeks and it is only now that I can sit and put it into words…or at least try again.

One of my favorite poetry books is Without by Donald Hall who, after surviving his own battle with colon cancer, learned his wife Jane was diagnosed with leukemia. The poetry in Without details different aspects of his wife’s 15-month battle up until her final moment. The book isn’t a favorite because it details this struggle, but because it puts into words the human existence at both its strongest and weakest and it reminds me of how fragile life really is. (source: The Poetry Foundation)

Watching a loved one pass away is one of life’s greatest challenges. There are few things that can be said to bring comfort and each person must process in his or her own way. Part of that process for me has been thinking of all I can take for granted in a single day here on Earth. Instead of asking what I could’ve done differently to save a life, I’ve found myself asking what I can do differently to live mine more fully.

When our time comes to an end and family members go through our belongings, will those things be just items to toss away or will they evoke beautiful memories…memories of happiness and fun? Will there be “things” at all or will we have lived with little, but given much?

Entering the field of professional counseling, I knew I was being called to do something great. I knew that there would be many lessons I’d learn from my clients, from their stories, and from my interactions with them. But my hope is that they learn from me as well. I hope that I listen with an open mind and offer perspective to aid them in moving forward. To me, these moments mean more than anything I could purchase in a store on Black Friday (or any other day for that matter). Apart from my profession, I hope I can live a life that isn’t full of useless “things,” but of compassion, love, generosity, care, and much more.

We so often hear the phrases “life is too short,” “you only live once,” and “live today like it’s your last” but do we truly take these phrases in and begin appreciating each moment we’re given? For some the answer is “no,” myself included at times. Maybe you’re in good health or engaging in low-risk activities, and you assume you don’t have a need to seize the day. However, the point is bigger than that…why not seriously live life to the fullest each and every moment of each and every day regardless of current health status? Why not look more at the things we have rather than the things we don’t? Why not reach out a hand to help someone in need? Why not take time to listen and pray for others? Why not? What have we got to lose?

My hope is that we can examine our lives and make changes before it’s too late. Don’t save it for later. Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do or say today. Don’t wait until you lose a loved one to decide that you’ll go that extra mile to bring a smile to someone’s face. Instead, ask yourself, “How can I live my life more fully today?”

We live in a world where information is available to us at any time and almost any place. If we’re not feeling well we can search online for the potential source of our issue or we can ask others on our social media pages what it could be. We have access to much more in the 21st century than ever before and, unfortunately, this can work against us.

Based on a quick Internet search, some may assume they have a deadly illness or a severe mental disturbance. It’s even become commonplace to hear “Oh that’s my OCD” or “I have ADHD because I can’t sit still.” Yet, it takes much more than reading information on a webpage to determine if someone has a medical or mental illness. It also takes more than not being able to sit still to arrive at a diagnosis of ADHD.

I remember when I was in graduate school and first opened the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (the book we use to determine if an individual has a mental diagnosis). I started reading through this three-inch thick book and would comment to myself, “Oh my goodness…I have that!” Then I’d get to the next thing and assume I had that too. Eventually I realized that any one of us could open this book and find symptoms that fit us. Why? Because “normal” is somewhat subjective and we all have things that we like, don’t like, do, don’t do, etc. and those things may not always be understood by others. But just because we may find that we fit some of the criteria for a specific disorder or disorders doesn’t mean that we’re diagnosed.

I explain to clients that essentially what brings them into my office is that the issues they’re facing have begun to cause distress in their lives. They’ve recognized that, while they may not have an actual disorder, something is not working for them. For some, they’ve been previously diagnosed and are fully aware of the scope of that diagnosis. They come to see me for help managing or eliminating their symptoms.

Regardless, in recent years human behavior has become categorized by those who aren’t trained to categorize it. We hear statements that people are “antisocial,” “narcissistic,” “crazy,” “bipolar,” “anorexic,” and the list goes on. Sure, maybe these people do in fact have a disorder, but to make these words a part of everyday conversation and to use them so casually has caused us to view ourselves in terms of what’s wrong and we can be very quick to judge someone based on what makes them unique as a person. We categorize ourselves based on the issues we face and when we do this, we may only see ourselves or others as a disorder (Example: “She’s bipolar”).

I encourage you to seek help if you believe that what you’re experiencing could be more than just every day ups and downs or more severe than general restlessness. In fact, I’d never discourage that for any of you. What I do discourage, however, is assuming a disorder is present just because you behave in a way that others don’t understand, because you don’t agree with how someone else is behaving, or because you read something online that indicated you did.

When you self-diagnosis, it can be very dangerous. Not only could it cause you to not seek an appropriate evaluation and treatment (after all, you already know what’s wrong, right?), but it can lead to thinking and behavior patterns that then suggest you really do have that issue/disorder. You may begin to live your life according to the criteria and be unnecessarily convinced that you are in fact ill. Likewise, you may begin to treat others differently based on what you assume is wrong with them. You might find yourself labeling or judging someone in a way that is unjustified.

So, if you have genuine reason to believe you or someone you know may have a physical or mental illness, I urge you to err on the side of caution and seek an appropriate evaluation. The Internet is a great resource, but it doesn’t replace the need for doctors or therapists.

Guest Post By Camille McDaniel, LPC, CPCS

I didn’t know exactly which topic I wanted to share with you initially. I wanted it to be relatable and at the same time hold your attention. Then it hit me. A voice said, “Just write what you see.” So I’m listening.

This is something I’ve helped so many people with over the years and this is a road that I travel regularly. Logically, you may know that you need boundaries with friends and family in order to keep your emotional and mental wellness intact. However, it can be difficult to put these boundaries into action when the time comes. Why? Why can’t we just do what we know we need to do and say what we need to say in order to maintain emotional and mental wellness? It has a lot to do with our perception of what it means to be assertive, how we want people to see us, and how we feel about ourselves.

Today, I want to give you three tips for creating the foundation of healthy boundaries. I also want to provide support for that part of your brain that may hold tight to the idea that it’s not worth the risk to try these three tips.

  1. Give yourself permission to be okay. Everyone is not interested in being healthy emotionally and mentally. Sometimes staying in what is familiar, even if it’s toxic, is more comfortable than trying to change for the better. When you decide to start creating a healthier space for yourself, some people may try to use manipulation as a way of getting you to just accept their poor behaviors, as if you’re the one who is wrong for trying to create boundaries for yourself. My advice? Don’t try too hard to make them okay with your changes. Let them own their own feelings. Boundaries are okay and YOU are okay for wanting to create a healthier life for yourself.
  1. Let people know how you feel when it happens. When you don’t advocate for yourself by speaking up, something happens. You sit and think about the event over the next few days and instead of actually saying what is wrong, you may let your body language speak for you or you may act like everything is fine and start resenting the person for “not knowing better” than to act that way. Letting the person know how they affected you will give that person an opportunity to learn more about you and understand how their actions are impacting you. What if they don’t care you ask? Well let me refer you back to the last part of #1: “Boundaries are okay and YOU are okay for wanting to create a healthier life for yourself.”
  1. Know when to let go. Sometimes you just have to love people from a distance. It’s not because you don’t care about them. It’s because you care about them and yourself enough to know when to stop toxic cycles from continuing in both of your lives. In time, that person may change or maybe they won’t. Either way, you must know when it’s time to put space between you and them.

Cam Headshot

Camille McDaniel, LPC, CPCS is the founder and director of Healing Psychotherapy Practices of Georgia, LLC in Kennesaw, Georgia.  She is also the creator of an online business called The Counselor Entrepreneur. You can find more about her work at http://www.CamilleMcDaniel.com.

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