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The Emotional Roller Coaster of Tidying Up

Photo by tu tu on Unsplash

Photo by tu tu on Unsplash

Marie Kondo has spread spring cleaning fever across the nation with her Netflix show Tidying Up. If you’ve been watching and think you might want to venture on your tidying up journey, maybe my experience will inspire you to take the plunge. I read Kondo’s book The Life Changing Magic of Tidying up a few years ago and followed through with her KonMarie method to declutter my life.  

Don’t let the title fool you - there is no magic trick it; the process is tedious, emotionally draining and physically exhausting. But the result is absolutely magical. The KonMarie method helps you declutter with mindfulness and intention, and it might just be the most rewarding project you’ll ever set your mind to.

How do people become collectors?

As the daughter of an immigrant mom from the old country, I inherited a tendency to hang on to things. Growing up, everyone in my family had their own collections - I collected stickers and stationary;  my older siblings saved stamps and coins, my dad had his books. At the dinner table, we did not waste a drop of food and ate leftovers for weeks. We complied treasures at yard sales every weekend, and never threw functional things away, because “you never know if you’ll need it.”

Not only do I hold onto practical items, but I’m also sentimental - and not just for heirlooms from childhood or memorabilia. I’ll attach sentimental value to a shopping list from my adult life 10 years ago because it reminds me what I bought when I was living in that brownstone apartment in downtown Portland. If I don’t keep it, how else will I remember those days?

If your stuff is piling up and you don’t know where anything is, it’s probably contributing to your stress. But anyone who gets attached to things knows that their stuff is more than that. Stuff symbolizes important times, events, rites of passage, and sometimes it just brings us comfort.

When life forces you to make a change

My first indication that I had a problem was my fridge. You open my freezer at your own risk (of avalanche). The wake-up call was when my boyfriend cleaned out my fridge and found enough expired condiments and rotting food to fill a black 55 gallon garbage bag. Seeing it all in the bag was a shock!

I had become my mother.

I was actually upset with him for throwing away ancient freezer-burned food. I was strangely attached to it, because I bought it at some point for a reason, and I felt connected to it. And I felt embarrassed. A whole slew of emotions come out when you’re confronted with your own hoarding tendencies.  But I understood that my attachment to 3 year old frozen veggie dogs was ridiculous - and that was my turning point. Once the food was in the bag, I felt like a weight had been lifted. I wanted to face my clutter demons all over the house.

At the time I read Kondo’s book, I was moving from an 1100 sq ft apartment with storage where I lived on my own, to an 800 sq ft space with no storage that I’d be sharing with my boyfriend.  I had no choice but to downsize, which was a great motivator. If you’re about to embark on the great tidying, it helps telling yourself you have to downsize as you go through your stuff - even if you don’t. Someday you might, and if you have too much stuff, it’ll just be more work for you, later.

The Joy of Giving

Parting with my stuff was hard, but what made saying goodbye easier was knowing that my things would be more appreciated elsewhere. On the day I moved, I had a giveaway “free-sale” and got to see my old stuff spark joy in others. My Anatomy and Physiology textbook was going to a college student who would continue to use it. Craft supplies went to a kindergarten teacher and a mother of young kids. Tennis rackets were going to a couple of best friends in high school. My old pottery work that I wasn’t too proud of was going to be treasured in someone else’s kitchen. My stuff was doing a lot more good with others than in dark corners of my closets.

This brought me joy.

The decluttering process

The KonMarie method guides you step by step on how to part ways with different types of items, starting with clothes. Clothes can be overwhelming to sort at first, but become easier the more you do it. I had collected so many items in my 20s that I kept into my 30s -  vintage dresses alone made a mound that took up my whole queen bed.

It took me weeks to sort through clothes, and it was tedious at first. The difficulty came from the feeling that by getting rid of things from my past, I’m dismissing my former self. But the beauty of this method is that you get to honor those items by parting with them lovingly, thanking them for their service. While this may sound corny, showing gratitude was crucial for sentimental folks like myself who get attached to things.

I kept only items that “sparked joy” that I wanted to bring with me to the future. I got rid of about 75% of my clothes and have no regrets. Now I know where all my clothes are, and I wear only things that fit well and represent who I am now and who I want to be. While it’s not perfect, I take pride in the organization that I’ve kept up. That’s part of the magic: once you’ve started a system that makes your life easier, you never go back to keeping things in unruly piles.

Reckoning with your past and present

Sorting through old papers was emotionally draining, but the epiphanies I had as a result were truly life changing. I attach so much importance to papers. I used to keep all my homework, notes and essays from college. School papers represented what I learned -  ideas that changed me and helped me grow as a person. Would throwing away these things be a denial of my own identity? And was it even my identity now that 15 years have passed? Am I the person I hoped to become 15 years ago? These thoughts fully spiraled into an identity crisis as I sat on my bedroom floor buried in piles of paper, overwhelmed and emotionally distraught. When I watch the Netflix show and see people go through similar struggles while sorting, I realize how universal this feeling is.

When you find things from your past, you’re forced to reckon with who you were, who you are now, and all the ways you’ve changed. Going through it was an important ritual for me in order to accept my current life and let go of the past. It was time to forward. What I discovered was this: I can get rid of things and still know who I am, and accept how I’ve changed from who I used to be. If you watch the show, you see that other people find self acceptance through this process. The work is brutal, but they come through this process better in the end: free of things that used to hold them back.

How I parted with sentimental items: the power of one

I used to keep brochures from a good play, invitations to friends’ weddings, academic journals from interesting college classes. Written documents represented my life and I honored those times through keepsakes that spark nostalgia, but not necessarily joy. Ultimately, it’s not sustainable to keep everything as a memento.

I took the time to glance at each document and process how it made me feel. I chose the one item that represented each time in my life, or each person I wanted to remember best. I only kept one example of an essay from each important class, one love letter from each relationship, one birthday card from a good friend. I took pictures of documents and journaled how it felt to read old letters. I extracted the memories from items, without having to keep them - and said goodbye.

In the end I consolidated 4 banker boxes of paper to just one box of items I cherish most. I’m thankful to have gone through this, because now when I look at that box, I no longer feel the overwhelm, guilt and avoidance I used to feel. Prized possession are inside. There is something cathartic and therapeutic about going through old stuff. Once you do it, you’ll get it out of your system and feel better - like a good cry.

Loving your space and mental clarity

We moved to our first home since my tidying days, which meant that I got to bring only things we love into our permanent space. We’ve curated our things and keep only our most valued and precious items that spark joy. My partner’s favorite photos from art school and only my presentable pottery pieces are displayed. We feel at peace when we spend time in our home together. We have our spaces for doing art, for relaxation, for working. My mind is less cluttered as a result of a cleaner house. We can concentrate, relax, and breathe in our space, and this has done wonders for our mental health and our relationship.

If you’re feeling the burden of too much stuff, Kondo’s book is a good place to start. It could plant the seed for a magical transformation in your life.  

And, if you feel like your emotional life is too cluttered, call our therapy office. Our therapists will be glad to help.


Karen Lenz People Bloom Counseling Redmond Executive Assistant.png

Karen Lenz is the Office Whiz Extraordinaire at People Bloom Counseling. She writes blog posts as a human navigating this world, a client sitting across from a therapist, much like you. She is thankful to get to share her experiences with you. Her Tuesday evening plans involve doing laundry, an activity she now enjoys because every shirt has its place, and every sock has its partner. She hopes you can find your joy in decluttering too.



Goal Setting in 2019: Increasing your Motivation for Change

Photo by Luis Quintero on Unsplash

Photo by Luis Quintero on Unsplash

It’s the first week of New Year’s and a lot of people like you are thinking about New Year’s resolutions, goal setting, and life hacking in 2019. There’s something about a new year that hits the restart button for us. It’s 1st quarter again, the challenges of 2018 are behind us, and the hope for a new beginning ahead.

Last year, I rained on your New Year’s parade by reminding you of the realities of setting new year’s resolutions. This year I’ll share with you my struggles, how I keep at it, and urge you to move towards your goals for a better health, relationship, and life.

My burden to bear

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when my shoulder pain started. Has it been there for six or nine months? Mostly definitely after the two fender benders. Being in front of the computer most days doesn’t help. Leaning towards my clients during emotionally intense moments doesn’t either. I wake up everyday sensing the pain in my right shoulder. I make every effort to sleep only on my back. Nonetheless, I couldn’t lift my arm in the morning without significant strain.

Not a very good patient

You see, I get PT and massage every two weeks. The problem is, I don’t always follow through with recommendations. PT exercises will only take 10-15 min to complete each day, but I’m not a very good patient.*

*took a break to do one of six exercises

They’re not fun, quite boring actually, and I need to rest in between exercises before starting over. Sometimes I go off to do something else in between, leaving the TheraBands wedged between closed doors. It wasn’t until I tried to go to the bathroom and wondered why the door was shut did I realize, “Oh, PT exercises…”

The costs of staying the same

Aside from the significant pain I feel when I first open my eyes, I feel like a crab fumbling around as I dress myself. I need help getting the bed ready for house guests because my arm tires easily from pulling and lifting. I feel the strain when I do meal prep, carry heavy things, and reach for longer than 10 seconds. During yoga, I couldn’t lower myself all the way down from plank pose without my knees also coming down. I hesitate starting Orangetheory not knowing if my body will get upset with me the next day.

What I’ve tried

So I’ve read everything under the sun about setting SMARTER goals*, goals that are Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Risky, Time-stamped, Exciting and Relevant. I even note PT exercises on my quarterly planner as a recurring goal. I tried to carry a TheraBand with me to work so I can do these exercises where I spend the most time, only to bring it home, untouched. I tried to set aside time in the morning before breakfast or right when I come home, but when that time passes, I’d tell myself, “I guess I’ll have to wait until tomorrow...”

The worst of it was when I tried to tie it to something that I routinely do, like, “If I don’t do my exercises, then I can’t floss either.” Yes, very strange indeed. Other people might have flossing as one of their goals; for me, I can’t go to bed without flossing. It just feels wrong. And yet, I did it one time because that was how much I didn’t want to do my exercises. I swiftly separated the associations between these two activities.

It just wasn’t working.

Why this matters

I don’t have an epic tale to tell you, one filled with a triumphant overcome, of a body free of pain and discomfort. What I will tell you is a daily reminder of why it’s important to do my exercises and why it matters that I experience less pain.

I want to spend less time commuting to this or that appointment. I want to be able to carry a Camelbak with 2 liters of water and to do so with ease when I hike in New Zealand next month. I want to start Orangetheory and see that my body is capable of healing from what has developed into more of a chronic problem. I want to put my arm around my husband’s waist like he does mine when we’re walking side-by-side.

The truth of the matter is, this shoulder pain has really limited me and I don’t want to live like this.

What’s working

I no longer set a definite time for when I need to do my exercises. My TheraBands are readily available and you don’t know this but I actually completed all my exercises for the day in between writing this blog. Every time I pass up an opportunity to do my exercises, I ask myself, “Why not now?” and use that minute to do a prep. I vary the order of the exercises so they feel fresh to me. Over time, I notice less pain, greater range of motion and that encourages me to keep going.

I still fall back into my old ways but I know it’s never too late to pick it back up. And, I don’t have to wait until it’s the beginning of a new year, the beginning of a new quarter, or the beginning of a new anything to do so. It can happen right here, right now.

But, that’s me. So, what about you?

Let’s talk change

I’d encourage you to reflect on the following questions** as you set goals for 2019:

  1. Why do you want to make this change?

  2. Are you capable of this change?

  3. How might this benefit you?

  4. Why does this change matter to you?

Can you remember why you’d be willing to disrupt your routine to make this change, even when it’s inconvenient, boring, uncomfortable, or even painful? What are the costs of things staying exactly the same? What might you gain if you put one foot in front of the other? If you give up soon after the new year’s, who is there to support you to get you back on track?

When you ponder these questions and answer truthfully, it’ll firm up your “why” for making this change. When you’re invested in the process and the outcome, it’ll increase your motivation to see your goals to the end. But don’t stop there: While you can read and think about goal setting all day long, the most important step is still taking actions towards the things that matter to you. As you eat, live and breathe the change you want for your life, ask yourself, “How do I like this new normal?”

You can always tweak and adjust as you go.

Change is slow

No one likes to take it slow. Everyone, to some degree, want things to happen yesterday, with lasting effects and little effort. Sorry to break it to you, but Rebecca Solnit, an American writer, says it best -

“Even earthquakes are the consequences of tensions built up over long spans of time, imperceptibly, incrementally. You don’t notice the buildup, just the release. You see a sick person, an old person, a dying person, the sight sinks in, and somewhere down the road you change your life. In movies and novels, people change suddenly and permanently, which is convenient and dramatic but not much like life, where you gain distance on something, relapse, resolve, try again, and move along in stops, starts, and stutters. Change is mostly slow.”

If you want to make sustainable changes that will last throughout the year, we’re here to help. We’ll be truly human, seeing you through your “stops, starts and stutters” without judgment, while moving you closer to the life you want to live. Give us a call today.

* Borrowed from The Full Focus Planner
** Borrowed from Motivational Interviewing


People-Bloom-Counseling-Redmond-Ada Pang.png

Ada Pang is the proud owner of People Bloom Counseling, a Redmond psychotherapy practice in WA. She helps unhappy couples find safety and connection in their relationship. She also helps cancer thrivers and their caregivers integrate cancer into their life stories. A day after writing this blog, she went to her first Orangetheory class. For the next few days, she walked around the office like a crab. She will go back. “You’re not out of shape,” says Jake who checked her in, “We just need to get you feeling stronger.” So it is.


Holidays Gone Awry (It's Gonna Be Ok)

Photo by Nicholas Peloso on Unsplash

Photo by Nicholas Peloso on Unsplash

“How was your Thanksgiving?” That question got thrown around a lot in the office lately. After the long weekend, we all caught each other up on our getaways, covering riveting topics like visiting the in-laws, kids back from college, and winter driving conditions. This conversation escalated to another fun one: swapping stories of holidays gone awry.

We can do our best, but we’re only human. As our last post indicated, the holidays are such high pressure events, full of stress and expectations. We want to make things perfect; we want to make things “right,” but at what expense? Could the holidays be wonderful because we’ve created memories based on something gone wrong?

Here at People Bloom, we’re outing ourselves with a collection of stories of our own holidays gone wrong. We live to tell the tale, and we still managed to get our family and friends around us.

Without indicating who’s who, perhaps you can guess which story belonged to whom…

Muddy all over

There was the time I was responsible for bringing stuffing, rolls, and picking up cousin Lisa for my boyfriend Jay’s parent’s dinner. I got all the cooking done with plenty of time to spare and started to head out, but my car wouldn’t budge. At the time I was living in Portland’s west slope, a famously hilly and muddy part of town. The tires were spinning out and the more I revved the more they sank. Growing up in Idaho, I knew a thing or two about tires spinning out in snow…but mud?!

Long story short, I had to get my neighbors involved in pushing me out of the mud, interrupting their T-day dinner. I got mud splatter all up my white pants, and was nearly two hours late to dinner. This was before cell phones, or at least before everyone and their mother had one. I wasn’t able to call the hosts to tell them I’ll be late because Jay, who was already there, didn’t have a cell phone and I didn’t have his mother’s number. They kindly waited for me to start (and for the stuffing and rolls) and I felt awful that I postponed dinner for so long. They were one of those wholesome all American happy families that had their act together, so disappointing them felt extra mortifying.

. . .

Our dog was in the soup

It was over Thanksgiving when I was playing with the family dog. Frank was new to us, a German Shepherd we’ve gone back to the breeder to visit time and again before we finally brought him home. It was hard to keep my hands off of him when he was swirling around us in all of the festivities!

Between laying out the table settings and checking the ham in the oven, I gave Frank a really good tummy rub. Our bonding time was interrupted when mom called me over to debone the turkey for the broth. Dad has gotten most of the meat off and we wanted to start the broth for the next day. Without thinking twice, I used my fairy fingers to work my way through the carcass. It wasn’t until half way through did I realize I’d forgotten to wash my hands after playing with the dog all day!

My sister ratted me out and I got a good scolding. Yes, it was gross, but the good news is no one got sick that holiday. We’re still family, right?

. . .

Still got married

One year, I had to choose between my future wife and Thanksgiving dinner. I was supposed to attend my own wedding rehearsal, which was scheduled right before Thanksgiving dinner, but the two events were on opposite sides of town. I was living in LA as the time, and my best man and I headed out but realized there was no chance of making it to the rehearsal with LA traffic on the 405. This story predates the cell phone, so I wasn’t able to report my whereabouts to my fiancée. I ended up turning around and going to the Thanksgiving dinner at my sister’s house, opting to miss my own wedding rehearsal.

Imagine the stress that must have caused - the thoughts that must have ran through my fiancée's head - did he get cold feet and run off? Did he crash and was stuck in a ditch? Nope. Just LA traffic. Everyone met up later that night, so I was able to explain myself. I did get married the next day; it’s not like I blew that too. Karen told me I’m lucky to be married. It’s funny now, but it was definitely stressful at the time.

. . .

Know your countertops

As a couple, my partner and I would go to his Uncle Steven’s for Thanksgiving every year. There’d be all kinds of chips and dips, salads and five different dressings, sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, oven roasted veggies, jello and of course turkey. Dad would bring dried persimmons, sourced from his tree and dried in his backyard while I’d supply chocolates of all kind from Seattle.

The “young people” try to be helpful in the kitchen and this particular year, we were handling something in and out of the oven. Corian, quartz, granite, they look about the same, right? Well, we don’t actually know when this happened or who was responsible but someone placed the hot oven tray directly on the corian countertop. As it turns out, Corian doesn’t take heat well and it left a huge crack! It cost Auntie Kathy $500 to fix and we didn’t hear about it until years later.

. . .

Who needs turkey, anyway?

Our family friend this Thanksgiving recounted the story of the year they dropped the turkey. They salvaged what they could, but it sure detracted from some of the illusion of holiday magic. The nice thing is, there are always so many other dishes to serve, people hardly miss it.

A few years back, just when we perfected our turkey recipe, we bought an expensive new barbecue grill. Naturally we had to try out “baking” the turkey in it! I stuffed it with my signature stuffing: bread cubes, raisins, sage, yellow onions, celery and butter. I followed the instructions but something went horribly, terribly wrong! I scorched the turkey and it was inedible.

Lesson learned: Always test out a new appliance, like a barbecue, before the holidays, ideally for a less consequential meal.

It’s gonna be okay

Yes, it’s disappointing when you work so hard to host your loved ones and it ends in disaster. But it sure makes memories for years to come! If America’s Funniest Home Videos taught us anything, it’s that these holiday flops happen all the time to families across the country.  Something about the extra pressure to get something right almost guarantees that a mishap will happen. And it turns into comedy gold! Families often look back and laugh, because…wouldn’t you?

Will you be that family this holiday and create memories regardless of what happens? Happy holidays to you and yours from the tribe here at People Bloom!


People-Bloom-Counseling-Redmond-Ada Pang.png


Ada Pang is the proud owner of People Bloom Counseling, a Redmond psychotherapy practice in WA. She helps unhappy couples find safety and connection in their relationship. She also helps cancer thrivers and their caregivers integrate cancer into their life stories. Her favorite tradition is to give gifts whenever she sees fit and not to wait for the holidays.

People Bloom Counseling Bob Russell Teens Working Professionals Redmond I.png

Bob Russell is a therapist at People Bloom Counseling, a Redmond psychotherapy practice in WA. He helps teens and their familiesthrive through the adolescent years. He also helps twenty somethings figure out their place in life. He does all the meal planning and cooking in the home and likes his holidays low key with immediate family.

Karen Lenz People Bloom Counseling Redmond Executive Assistant.png

Karen Lenz is the Executive Assistant at People Bloom Counseling. She’s the office admin whiz - not a therapist. She writes blog posts as a human navigating this world, a client sitting across from a therapist, much like you. She is quite the cook and baker and her kitchen smells ah-mazing over the holidays!

Caregivers: Two Factors to Keep in Mind when Caring for a Cancer Patient

Photo by Gus Moretta on Unsplash

Photo by Gus Moretta on Unsplash

Caring for a loved one going through cancer is taxing. You’re used to seeing this person as strong, independent and capable. For perhaps the first time, they’re physically weak, emotionally shut down and have a hard time pulling themselves up. They’re cranky when they used to be the most patient person in the world. They’re tired, they sleep a lot, they’ve lost weight, gained weight, they don’t want to eat their favorite foods, they can’t do what they used to...

And, worst of all, you can’t make things much better for them.

You try to be there, to help out in whatever way you can, to remind them of how great they’re doing, how much you care… But none of these change the fact that they’re still suffering. You can’t take their exhaustion, their nausea, their discomfort away. You perk up when you catch glimpses of their old self before fatigue takes over and they have to climb back into bed. Seeing cancer suck the life out of them makes you angry and it breaks your heart.

Because the word cancer is often equated with death, aka the ultimate out-of-control experience, there is a tendency to want to take back control. For caregivers, this can come in the form of doing too much or sometimes not enough. As a Medical Family Therapist, I learned that there are two important elements to keep in mind as the caregiver of someone going through a medical crisis like cancer.

Agency

The first is agency, defined as the ability for the patient to make independent and empowering choices about their life. If you’re feeling out-of-control as the caregiver, just imagine how your loved one must be feeling in their body. The last thing you’d want is for them to feel even more powerless over their situation. Provided they’re of sound mind to do so, decisions should be made by them, with them and along side them, rather than for them.

Choose your battles. Both of you are already battling cancer and that’s tiring enough. If they have a preference that’s irritating but nothing more, let them have their way. If they have a strong opinion about how they receive care, express your concerns but respect their wishes. Their life is still theirs even though it’s hard to watch because you want something better for them. They have their reasons for certain choices, even though you might not understand or agree.

Communion 

Aside from agency, a desire for communion, that is, a sense of belonging and being with their community, is also very important. Just because they disagree with you about what supplements to take does not mean you step away from their care all together. They might still need someone to fend for them at the next oncology visit, or you still make great company even though you’re doing nothing more than watching a show together.

Cancer patients often feel very alone, like they’re the only one going through cancer. While they may find that sense of camaraderie at support groups, you’re the one who has been there before cancer and now during cancer. You know they’re more than their cancer and you want to see them through. You’re the one who will love them through all of their changes and still find them beautiful.

Seattle resources

Caring for a cancer patient can be very isolating. It is important for you to pay attention to what you might be needing to sustain care. If you’re a caregiver needing support for yourself, Cancer Lifeline and Cancer Pathways are two wonderful organizations in the Seattle area with support groups for caregivers. There you’ll likely find others who also share your exhaustion, frustration, sadness, pain and guilt around caregiving. There you might also discover your need for communion during this trying time.


People-Bloom-Counseling-Redmond-Ada Pang.png

Ada Pang is the proud owner of People Bloom Counseling, a Redmond psychotherapy practice in WA. She helps unhappy couples find safety and connection in their relationship. She also helps cancer thrivers and their caregivers integrate cancer into their life stories. You can find her at ada@peoplebloomcounseling.com.

Speaking up for Yourself as a Breast Cancer Patient

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

October is breast cancer awareness month. While there’s often a lot of noise around screening and prevention, I want to talk about finding your voice when you’re at your oncology appointments. I work with a lot of breast cancer patients who wished they had requested this or asked that question during a medical visit, but it didn’t occur to them until after the fact or they may have felt unsure of themselves. And it’s difficult to broach that topic now that the appointment is over. 

Healthcare is changing

Gone are the days where doctors have all the authority and knowledge and patients come in and are told what’s wrong with them and how to fix it. Granted, I’m not saying don’t trust your medical team; they still have a lot to offer during a time of medical uncertainty. But, with the blessing and curse of search engines, you can easily look up symptoms, possible diagnosis, treatment and side effects, and seek medical consultation to confirm or deny your findings. While this might lead to misdiagnosis or unnecessary anxiety, now more than ever, patients are more likely to present at their doctor’s office looking more like this: “You recommended six rounds of chemo, but a recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that women like me with early-stage breast cancer may not need chemo after all. What’s that about?”

Collaborative healthcare

The field of medicine has been calling it “collaborative healthcare.” As the name suggests, every time you go into your doctor’s office, it is really meant to be a collaboration, a partnership to a healthier you. You’re the one who has been living in your body for the past however many years; you’re the one who knows your medical history or have the means to find out whether there has been a history of cancer on either side of your family.

As a patient, you have something to offer too.

The thing is, when you feel heard, understood and your questions answered, you’re more invested in your treatment, and you’re more likely to follow recommendations that make sense to you. While you might not be thrilled about treatment itself, you can look forward to seeing your medical team because you know they care about you and have your best interest at heart.

Current reality

The reality is that there’s still a power differential between the provider and the patient. Your oncologist did go to med school and further specialized in cancer. Your degree was in business; not oncology. There is a firehose of information shared during appointments and on handouts, not to mention the emotional turmoil of needing to go through treatment. As a cancer patient, you are at a more vulnerable place. Rather than being told you need to jump and how high, this is a crucial time to find your voice and feel empowered about your own care. It is after all your body.

A push for self-advocacy

Because you’re such an important part of the treatment process, I strongly encourage you to advocate for yourself. If you’re not in a place to do so, bring a friend or a family member with you who could. The following are examples of ways to help you find your voice as you interact with your oncology team:

  1. Do a little research, if that could help you – Emphasis on “a little”. Google does not replace medical school and decades of experience, but credible websites can help to learn a little about what might be going on with you. I say this with the caveat: for some people, knowledge is power. For others, knowledge is anxiety. Still for the rest, knowledge is power up to a certain extent, then it turns into anxiety. So, do what helps you.

  2. Know your rights as a patient – This is the two page handout I call snooze reading. You can pick one up at any healthcare provider’s office and it shows you your rights as a patient seeking medical care. To name a few, you have the right, according to your local health department, to say yes to treatment, to say no to treatment, to change providers, to have access to records, to file a complaint, etc. You have more rights than you know. While you might fear ramifications for some of these actions, the stress of not being in charge of your own care could be worse.

  3. Read your reports – It’s a lot of medical terminology, I know. Unless you’re also in the medical field, it can read like french. That’s the beauty of Google, you can search for terms, struggle to know what it really means, then proceed to 3) and 4). I know an oncologist who thanks his patients for reading their reports, because many people don’t.

  4. Come with questions – You do have questions, even if you’re afraid of the answers. Your $135 visit with your surgeon is the best time to ask them. I know of a patient who goes to her appointments with her list of 20 questions. And, she brings her partner to catch the answers that goes over her head. Better to ask a silly question than to wish you had asked it after the fact.

  5. Ask follow-up questions – Even for the over-prepared, there’s bound to be questions that are left unanswered. Secure message your doctor’s office in between appointments; you don’t have to wait until your next visit, unless your appointment is soon and you’d prefer a face-to-face.

  6. Ask yourself, “What do I need or want?” – Being diagnosed and treated for cancer is a very uneasy time. Your world has just been overhauled. It’s okay to ask for what would put you at greater ease. Could a warm robe bring comfort during your next check up? A blanket during your four-hour chemo? Do you want to bring your special stuffed animal to every radiation treatment? Request a certain radio station during your MRI?

  7. Ask for what you need or want – As you come upon your preferences along the way, share them. Make it happen. I know someone who asked for a surgical pen so she could go home and mark on her husband. Cancer is hard enough; let’s bring some lightheartedness into the mix.

Cancer has a way of prompting us to re-evaluate life, which could include finding your voice. You’ll never have as much medical attention given you than when you’re in active treatment. While it’s not necessarily the attention you’d like, let it be a time when you can focus on you.


People-Bloom-Counseling-Redmond-Ada Pang.png

Ada Pang is the proud owner of People Bloom Counseling, a Redmond psychotherapy practice in WA. She helps unhappy couples find safety and connection in their relationship. She also helps cancer thrivers and their caregivers integrate cancer into their life stories. She’s a big proponent of standing up to your medical provider, even if it’s uncomfortable in the moment. After all, when you’re already diagnosed and treated for cancer, what do you have to lose? Please take care of you.

Friend, this is how to Support me During a Break-up

Photo by Court Prather on Unsplash

Photo by Court Prather on Unsplash

Yes, it sucks and it hurts

First of all, if you’re going through a break-up, my heart aches with you. This absolutely sucks and it can feel like the pain never ends. If you haven’t already, I want you to watch this video. Psychologist Guy Winch talks about what it takes a to mend a broken heart:

I might add that while it’s important for your friends to show you compassion and patience, it’s even more important to be compassionate and patient towards yourself as you recover. The time it takes for you to heal might not be proportional to the length of the relationship. 

Close to home 

As a relative, a friend, a therapist, I’ve witnessed many heartbreaks. Take Tammy, for example, my playmate. We go way back. We have so many inside jokes and recall the silliest stories. We share embarrassing selfies and we’ve seen each other at our best and at our worst. And worse it was when she went through a tumultuous divorce a few years ago. Is her ex coming back? Is he gone for good? There was so much back and forth and “fun” is not the word I’d use to describe this rollercoaster ride.

The thing is, there’s never a good time to break up. Even if it’s for the better, it always sucks. Sometimes it’s easier for the relationship to keep dragging on than it is to be honest about parting ways. Regardless of how your relationship ended, when your friends don’t know what to say, they can say the most insensitive things. Have you ever stopped opening up to a friend because of something they’ve said? You probably didn’t bother correcting them because you’re just trying to stop hemorrhaging.

So what shouldn’t your friends do? Let’s see if this resonates with you. 

What not to do when helping me get through my break-up 

1.    Bad mouth my ex – When I call my ex every name in the book, you want to support me and jump on the bandwagon. I know you mean well because you don’t like seeing me this way. But when I hear those colorful words flying out of your mouth, I’m silently wishing that you’d tone it down. Not only am I managing my own emotional response; I’m also cued into yours. I don’t have the bandwidth for that.

2.    Argue with me when I defend my ex – So there’s a reason why we got together. However long or short it has been, there was something there. If they’re all that terrible, what does that say about me that I chose to be in a relationship with them? This back and forth is a part of the process. Please let me be.

3.    Remind me why we should’ve never gotten together in the first place – This stings. I might already realize this and have mustered up all the courage to break up with that person, let alone tell you. The last thing I’d need to hear is, “Remember when I told you...”

4.    Tell me I’ll find someone better – I’m not saying that’s not true, but not now. I’m still aching over this relationship and I’m not ready for another one. Please; I really can’t think about someone else right now.

5.    Hurry me along – I don’t know why but I feel like I’m never going to get over this person. Every playlist, place, car ride remind me of them. I don’t know how long this is going to take. The last thing I need is for you to get irritated at me because it has been five months and I’m still down and out. Please let me be me when I’m with you.

So, let’s take a break here. Rather than simply telling your friends what they shouldn’t do during your break up, what would you rather they do instead? Would the following help?

What to do when helping me get through my break-up

1.    Listen – I know I’m rambling. I just want to pour my heart out and get things off my chest. You don’t have to agree with me. You don’t even have to side with me. Just give me your best ear and don’t judge me.

2.    Offer a place to stay – Sometimes I just want to get out of my element and have a change of scenery. I wouldn’t mind crashing on your couch for a few nights. Just offer.

3.    Take a break from talking about my ex – That’s all I think about. Perhaps it seems like that’s all I want to talk about. But really, help set some limits around that. Let me go on for an hour and then let’s move onto something else. I need a break from this too.

4.    Keep inviting me out – I still want a life. Whether I’m in a relationship or not doesn’t change that. Yes, it might be hard to see people in pairs but I’m still human. Being in good company helps me heal.

5.    Give me space – I know I sound like I’m contradicting myself, but I’m really not. Sometimes, I don’t want to go out and I just need space to think and process what the hell just happened. If I’m not in the mood, you can probe a little but then check back later if I insist on being alone.

I’m sure this is not an exhaustive list but I really hope this can be a conversation starter. Share this post and add your own pointers. You’re uniquely you and your friends who have never seen you this way simply don’t know how best to support you.

For your recovery, for their understanding, for your friendship, given them somethin’. 

Finally, let us know if the counselors at People Bloom can support you in more ways than 10. We’re not your friends and we can’t thank you enough for them, but as therapists, we have other tools to help you get back on your feet. You know where to find us.


People-Bloom-Counseling-Redmond-Ada Pang.png

 Ada Pang is the proud owner of People Bloom Counseling, a Redmond psychotherapy practice in WA. She helps unhappy couples and families living with cancer. Her clinician Bob Russell specializes in teens and young professionals. Whatever your challenges, let us know if we can help you!

You Are Not Your Diagnosis

Photo by Chris Barbalis on Unsplash

Photo by Chris Barbalis on Unsplash

In my many years of practicing therapy, I have had some clients who feel that what they consider to be their traits, temperament, and preferences - i.e. their personality - is reduced to a diagnosis. Perhaps you identify with and have nurtured these qualities over time, and you take pride in that. Your way of being has helped you navigate the world and has gotten you where you are today. Thus, in addressing these qualities in therapy, you might be concerned that the work we do could radically change you as a person or invalidate your life experiences.

Here’s my short answer: You are not your diagnosis, or even the symptoms of your diagnosis.

My initial meeting with you helps me understand where you’ve been and what you’re struggling with. While a diagnosis is necessary for billing insurance and can be helpful to guide treatment, I see the qualities that you bring into sessions as a condition, and sometimes, as a timestamp of where you’re at, rather than a disorder. There is nothing wrong with you. Some things are just not working as well as you’d like, and you can use some help figuring it all out.

Here’s an analogy:  I once knew a young man who was well over six feet tall. He liked being tall, but he had had a problem hitting his head on low overhanging things like street signs and door frames. Not that I saw him in the office about being tall -- I saw him for something entirely different. He doesn't necessarily have to change being the way he is, as much as hopefully growing to be someone who is more versatile, like learning to duck at times.

My point is: Therapy is often about adjusting to situations, as a practical matter. You don’t have to stop being you; but we can help you do you with more flexibility.

Let me know if I can help!


People Bloom Counseling Bob Russell Teens Working Professionals Redmond I.png

Bob Russell is a therapist at People Bloom Counseling, a Redmond psychotherapy practice in WA. He helps teens and their families thrive through the adolescent years. He also helps twenty somethings figure out their place in life. In his 40+ years working in mental health, he’s developed a knack for helping people peel the layers of the onion that make up their identity. Bob can be found at PeopleBloomCounseling.com.

Lone Rangers Need Friends Too: Finding Community in an Increasingly Isolated World

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Making light of loneliness

The only thing I can bring myself to watch lately is comedy shows. My latest fixation is on the Netflix special Getting Coffee in Cars with Comedians, in which Jerry Seinfeld takes comedians out to coffee. When two comedians get together, they commiserate about the state of the world and their fears and insecurities, but always find a way to make it funny.  Comedy shows remind me of the human condition which is this: We all struggle, and we all feel desperately lonely sometimes. This is even when, and perhaps especially when, we have all the fame and money in the world.

I know this sounds depressing, but it’s meant to be reassuring. We are all in this tough world together, so we might as well laugh as a way to cope.

If famous comedians with millions of adoring fans feel this lonely, where does that leave us regular folks?

We have all been there

In her last post, Ada made an appeal for social inclusion, urging readers to reach out to those who may feel excluded. It inspired me to pay attention to people who may not be in my inner circle, but it also reminded me of all the times I have felt excluded.
I was that painfully shy kid in school, so it’s a sensitive topic. It’s been 20 years since junior high but still feels #toosoon. And even as an adult, I have felt abandoned by flaky friends, like a loner on many a Friday night, or terrified of rejection when I initiate hangouts.

So, I wanted to talk about what this young adult does when she feels like the “other.” 

The loneliness epidemic

So many people live in solitude and wish they had more connection. We all know that feeling lonely is emotionally distressing, but science also confirms that it can lead to a whole slew of health problems. And conversely, people who are well connected live longer and happier lives.

We Americans pride ourselves on our individualism and place a lot of value on independence - that cowboyin’ lone ranger mentality. But we are social creatures, and even lone rangers need friends. Friendships came so naturally when we were kids surrounded by peers, but once we’re no longer in proximity of a social group, making new friends gets difficult. As we get older, many of us are worse at maintaining friendships. The fact that we're highly mobile and can move half way across the world also doesn't help. But, as we get older, our need for friendships doesn’t diminish.

You can try to counteract this disconnect with social media “friends,” but unless you’re using Facebook to decide where to meet the gang in real life, the social media experience can leave us feeling empty. We all crave acceptance, closeness, and meaningful connections.

Do you get lonely sometimes?

If you answered yes to this question, you're normal. Admitting that you feel lonely takes courage, because we humans have our egos to protect. It means confronting our social insecurities and realizing our relationships are not where we'd like them to be. We tend to blame ourselves for feeling this way, as if it shows that we're weak for needing others. So this is how it goes down: we feel lonely, we beat ourselves up for feeling this way, and we cope by trying to convince ourselves we don't need community.

It just doesn't work.

Welcome to the party

You are one of many lonely people. The irony is that our feelings of loneliness unite us all. Everyone feels this way sometimes, even people who seem to have it all. If you have a tendency to get lonely, studies show that it’s not your fault. The feeling of loneliness begins a vicious cycle: We crave companionship, and if we sense the slightest rejection, we perceive people’s reactions to us negatively and we feel more sensitive than usual. This further perpetuates our feelings of loneliness. Psychologist John Cacioppo explains this perceived rejection here.

The problem with the simple solution

Well-meaning acquaintances probably tell you to “just get out there and meet people,” enthusiastically suggesting that you get on a dating app or join a knitting circle. But it’s not that simple. Social interaction doesn’t necessarily make us feel any less alone. Sometimes the more people we are surrounded by, the lonelier we get.

Even people in relationships get lonely; in fact, a strained relationship in which you feel distance between you and your partner can make you feel more solitary than actually being alone. There are also the happily married couples who found companionship, but got so caught up with their relationship and family life that their social outlets dwindled over time.  

Want to combat loneliness?

It turns out, one thing that helps to combat loneliness is learning how to interact better. If you identify as someone who perceives slights that might not actually be there, a trained therapist can help you read social cues so you can interact with the world in healthier ways. You’ll see with practice that what we may view as rejection may not be so, and over time you’ll build up the courage to approach others, make plans, and interact with less fear.

Opening up

Knowing how common the feeling of loneliness is might help you be more open about it.  Try telling a confidant that you’re dealing with this, and they might just share their struggles of feeling isolated as well. Much like the comedians confiding in each other about their anxieties, we can find fellow lonely souls who may share our concerns. This sense of comradery is good for our souls.

You’d be amazed at the kindness you might encounter when you open up and show vulnerability. Here's a better cycle: Vulnerability can beget vulnerability.

Put yourself first

It may seem counterintuitive to focus your attention inward when you’re already feeling so self-aware. But try it. Take your attention off the external world “out there” and do things for yourself that make you feel worthwhile. Imagine a lovely guest from out of town is coming to stay with you. How would you treat your friend? Would you cook special meals, make their bed and keep the house tidy? Well…the twist is, that guest is you! Pamper yourself, respect yourself, tend to your needs. This diverts attention from your expectations of others and things that are outside your control.

Ease into the world at your own pace

As a lonely person, I used to try combat my own solitude by inviting everyone I know to hang out at once. These bashes rarely went well, and usually had two outcomes: 1) people would show up, I’d feel all this pressure to make it fun. I wasn’t in my comfort zone and I’d get overwhelmed and vow to never do that again… or 2) almost no one would show up. As a sensitive gal, I’d internalize this as meaning I’m unlovable as a friend and the rejection cycle ensues.

I learned over time that it'd be in my best interest to embrace my introversion.  I started small and continue to take small steps. I run with my strengths, not my weaknesses. I do better with an intimate crowd of one or two and I'm happy with that. 

Be true to you

When you’re ready to go out in the world, find what works for you. Do what makes you feel comfortable so that you can be excited about it. Your interests and hobbies make you who you are. Go find your people. There is a crowd for every interest these days and sharing your likes with others can be a gateway to making connections. Sites like Meetup.com allow you to find activities based on shared interests. Find art classes, lectures, or musical events that provide a structured activity so there is less pressure to interact. If you’re religious, try joining community events at your congregation.

There is no pressure to keep attending social events if they don’t feel right. But, putting yourself out there is a form of therapy called “exposure therapy.” The theory is, the more you expose yourself to an uncomfortable situation, the less white knuckling you'll be doing and more at ease you will feel with time.

The key to being around others? Enjoy the activity as your first priority, and if connections happen, that's the cherry on top.

You got this!

Meeting new people can be intimidating. Go easy on yourself and treat yourself with compassion as you navigate this strange new world. Having a professional around to help you through this process can make a big difference. Talk to a therapist for guidance if you’re not sure where to start. You know where to find us.


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Karen Lenz is the Executive Assistant at People Bloom Counseling. She’s the office admin whiz - not a therapist. She writes blog posts as a human navigating this world, a client sitting across from a therapist, much like you. She is thankful to get to share her experiences with you, and hopes that her messy journey might resonate with you and make you feel less alone.

A Case for Social Inclusion

Photo by  James Baldwin  on  Unsplash

Photo by James Baldwin on Unsplash

Don’t go through life alone 

In previous posts, I’ve talked about the importance of friendships. When we’re going through a hard time, we fare better with a friend’s support because we have access to a larger pool of physical and psychological resources. Just knowing that someone cares for you, thinks about you, and is willing to do tangible things to help you can make you feel ten feet tall. Someone has your back; you don’t have to fight the fight alone.

This is not just with friends.

Being seen and standing with

Given the political climate, there has been more seeing and standing with each other against the “isms” of society. We may personally know someone who is oppressed or the sheer knowledge that injustice is happening to another human being is enough to make us take a stand. This is not okay. We may be standing with strangers but that doesn’t matter. It is our way of saying they matter, and they are one of us and we’re one of them.

Social inclusion is key to our sense of well-being. Let me tell you how.

A ball experiment

In a social experiment involving sets of three subjects, they were initially asked to take a life satisfaction survey. Questions included items such as, “How would you rate your quality of life? How satisfied are you with your current relationships? How do you like your job? How hopeful are you about your future?” and the like.

They were then taken into separate rooms and two of the subjects were given the same instructions: pass the ball equally back and forth to each other and then eventually at the exclusion of an identified third. This third subject, however, was told that the ball would be equally passed between the three of them.

They did as told.

At first, it was pretty uneventful. It was an equal ball opportunity; no hard feelings. Over time, it became apparent that for one reason or another, the third person was being left out. This person signaled, reached up but was only passed the ball occasionally. At the end of the back and forth passing which lasted no more than a few minutes, they were told to re-take the same life satisfaction questionnaire. Can you guess how their answers differed?

Experiment results

The two people who felt included and were simply following instructions rated similar results as before. If they felt that life was good; life was still good. If life sucked; the experiment didn’t change their perspective much. The third person, however, had a more pessimistic view of looking at the world compared to just moments before: their quality of life decreased, they felt like their dreams weren’t going to come true, they were less satisfied with their jobs, etc.

All this from passing a ball back and forth with complete strangers. Do these results surprise you?

Social exclusion in your life

When was the last time you found yourself in a situation where you felt “other?” What was that like? What thoughts went through your mind? How did that impact your mood? What did you do afterwards? I can imagine this all depends on how important the social gathering, the relevance of those people in your life, how frequently this has been happening, and how you interpreted their cold shoulders. We’ve all been there; it’s hard to not be picked, seen and included.

You can pretend that it didn’t bother you, but it did. You can hide that it hurts, but it still hurts.

Extending the invitation

Knowing how that feels, what if you can make your community a little more inviting? Who’s in your circle and how are you including them? How can you extend your circle to bring in others? These do not have to be over the top gestures. Small things matter.

For example, when was the last time you were in a conversation in a group and you noticed someone on the outskirts and you simply left them there? You were not intentionally being rude but you also didn’t make any effort to include them. What if you locked eyes with that person from time to time? What if you asked them a question and brought them into the conversation? What if a smile made the other’s world a less lonely place?

In case you feel “other”

If you feel “other” and you’re having a hard time integrating into your community, we’re here for you. Here at People Bloom, we’re all about helping you grow your tribe: the people who will be there for you when we’re no longer in your life. I help couples connect and cancer patients heal. Bob helps teens and young adults find their way through their home, school, work and social life. We hope to meet you!


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Ada Pang is the proud owner of People Bloom Counseling, a Redmond psychotherapy practice in WA. She helps unhappy couples find safety and connection in their relationship. She also helps cancer thrivers and their caregivers integrate cancer into their life stories. She’s guilty as charged when it comes to remembering how she has left someone on the outskirts. She’s going to change that in the next two weeks.

A Life Worth Living: What to Do When Faced with Thoughts of Suicide

Photo by Larisa Birta on Unsplash

Photo by Larisa Birta on Unsplash

Death by suicide

Social media blew up two weeks ago when fashion icon Kate Spade and culinary expert Anthony Bourdain died by suicide days of each other. After all, who doesn’t know the brand Kate Spade, hasn’t walked past one of her stores, or perhaps own one of her purses? Foodie or not, who hasn’t heard of Anthony Bourdain and his culinary storytelling that sparks interest and delight in food and cultures all around the world?

News like this often get the immediacy of the press and then slowly fade away. However, if you are familiar with the feelings of suicide or have lost family, friends and role models to suicide, you do not just recover and move on. These thoughts, feelings and images still consume your mind even when the news has moved to national crises like the horror of separating immigrant children from their families.

Suicide unfortunately happens amongst everyday folks, and this rarely makes the news or causes a social media uproar. While Spade and Bourdain may have been inspiring role models, their deaths didn’t spur this strong reaction because they matter more than the rest of us. It is because high profile celebrity suicides affect our collective consciousness and bring awareness to a problem people face in their small communities. We want to open the discussion about suicide and what we can do to prevent it.

Soapbox about suicide language

As a healthcare professional in the state of Washington, I am required to take a suicide prevention training every six years. One of the most significant takeaways from the last training was changing the way we talk about suicide. We often talk about someone having “committed suicide.” If we really stop to think about it, the closest association of someone having “committed” something is a crime.

While we would never say that someone “committed cancer” or “committed heart disease,” let’s start by saying that it was death by suicide. I understand that suicide implies a choice whereas medical illnesses does not, but it doesn’t help for us to talk about our struggles if we’re loading on the stigma.

Thoughts about ending the pain: a common experience

Recently, I took another suicide and self-harm training. This time, it was with Jack Klott, a suicide prevention consultant. There, I learned that the thoughts of suicide is actually a common experience. Difficult or sometimes chronic life circumstances can create a felt sense of unbearable pain. This then challenges our capacity to cope, and thinking about death is an effort to get rid of this intolerable pain.

The thing is, as a society, we freak out when someone talks about thoughts of suicide. We are quick to talk them off the ledge, which in imminent situations, we need to. But in cases where it took a lot of courage to even admit to having these thoughts, it doesn’t help to be told to not think or feel this way. Rather, we need a be willing to learn about each others’ pain and to encourage the person with suicidal thoughts to get help.

Additional factors to protect against suicide

Indeed, having a support network is a protective factor in preventing suicide. Jack Klott also mentioned the importance of the following factors:

  • Resilience. This is about the process of adapting and recovering from significant stress or hardships. In a separate training, I learned and shared about stress-resilience habits.
     
  • Hope. Remind yourself how you got through difficult circumstances in the past, because you have. When it’s hard to hold hope, allow and trust others to hold that with you and for you.
     
  • Tolerate stress and distress. In moments of despair, it’s about surviving that moment without making matters worse. Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is a pioneer in teaching you how to tolerate, rather than avoid, distress. Here’s an overview on distress tolerance.
     
  • Regulate emotions.  In the face of unbearable pain, emotions are strong and overwhelming. This often prevents your pre-frontal cortex from thinking rationally. Learning DBT skills can help you label and regulate your emotions, so you don’t feel so crazy inside.
     
  • Social support.  I mentioned it above, but I see it’s such a necessity to mention it again. Suicidal thoughts are a common experience. The only way we can feel less alone about it is if we give it a collective voice. Much like the #metoo movement, don’t suffer in silence. Reach out if you’re having a hard time. Reach in if you know someone is struggling. We are each others’ safety net.
     
  • A reason for living.  Did you know that a lot of amazing things needed to occur for you to be born? The odds of you being born to the parents you were born to required a lot of “coincidences” in the history that preceded them. And I’m not even talking about how babies are made. That math is 1 in 400,000,000,000. You’re uniquely you. While you might not be a Kate Spade or an Anthony Bourdain, this world is not the same without you. You are changing the world by being in it and doing you.

Life is hard; get help

If you’re struggling with thoughts about suicide, share these thoughts with a trusted friend or healthcare professional. Text CONNECT to 741741 in the United States. Call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at (800) 273-TALK (8255). Visit Now Matters Now to learn helpful ways to deal with your suicidal thoughts.

You don’t have to go about this alone. Get help.


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Ada Pang, MS, LMFT is the proud owner of People Bloom Counseling, a Redmond therapy practice in WA. At the heart of what she does, she’s about helping people flourish and live compassionate and vital lives. She can be found at PeopleBloomCounseling.com.