Weekly Theme: Relationships

Weekly Theme: Relationships

Types of Relationships

Everyone reading or listening to this can say they have been in a relationship. Some may argue “I’ve never had a partner before.” My response to them is have you ever had a friend? Maybe a neighbor? Parents or someone you viewed as a caregiver? Have you had a pet or a teacher? Relationships are not limited to romantic partnerships. You can have a relationship with anyone from your mother, friend, supervisor, your terrible ex, the stray cat that keeps coming over for food, and most importantly with yourself. This is a subject that comes up almost daily in mental health treatment.


The Lessons of Relationships

The relationship you have with others and yourself is very relative and important. A need for connection appears to be innate as well as learned. Some research shows that the ability to form this connection (relationship) comes from infancy, in that the caregiver reliably meets the infant’s basic psychological needs (food, shelter, etc). As they get older, they engage in relationships that essentially shape who they are. Who agrees that we learn something from everyone we meet? This could be lessons after heartbreak, trust/distrust, a new music artist, or that the parent that was supposed to show us the way didn’t.


The Core Values of Relationships

There are core values in any relationship you are in. These core values are respect, communication, trust, commitment, and companionship. When we break down each value, we see that each one is complex in and of itself. Respect can encompass being kind, polite, thankful, affirming, listening, and respecting boundaries. Additionally, communication is expressing your emotions, paying attention, learning to manage your emotions, and being intentional. Looking at trust, we learn that it also means being open, honest, acknowledging your partner’s feelings, and giving your trust that they have good intentions. We see commitment broken down to showing the person having loyalty, expressing appreciation, working as a team, agreeing to disagree, and showing love. Lastly, with companionship, we simply know we enjoy being around this individual, have common interests, and learn/grow from one another.


A Working Example of Core Values

Let’s look at this theme specifically with that stray kitten. This kitten has been hanging out around the back porch. At first, you might be wary thinking they might have a family or fleas. The next day we look at this kitten a little closer, they don’t have a collar and seem thin for their size. You think, maybe I’ll pick up some food for that kitten. That night you leave out some food on the back porch and watch as the kitten slowly walks forward and slowly/cautiously eats the food. As winter approaches, you start opening the door for them to come in. At first, the kitten gets scared and runs away. You start worrying about them but keep leaving the door open until one day the kitten comes in and the rest is history. Do we see the core values in this story?


It’s Never Too Late

Now you must be reevaluating every relationship you’ve been in and thinking “Do I even have a relationship with myself?” The answer is it is never too late to create a relationship with yourself or grow the one you already have (or leave a relationship that is not healthy or serving you). One of the main parts is self-love (which will be covered next week) and practicing the core values we previously discussed. Below is a list of things you can do to build a relationship within yourself (or even others).

  • Create your own core values and don’t steer from them (unless you learn a new one you like).
  • Sit with yourself, learn who you are when you’re not around someone else.
  • When you are trying to solve something, ask yourself first. The answers are within you.
  • Get to know yourself. What are your likes and dislikes at this point in your life and what makes you smile? What do you like doing for fun?
  • Set your boundaries with yourself and others.
  • Decrease the judgment you have towards yourself and others.
  • Show compassion and gratitude towards yourself.
Roar with Confidence in 2022, the Year of the Water Tiger

Roar with Confidence in 2022, the Year of the Water Tiger

year of the tiger barn life

Roar with Confidence in 2022, the Year of the Water Tiger

In addition to evidence-based practices like psychotherapy and cognitive behavioral therapy, Barn Life Recovery utilizes Eastern healing practices like yoga and tai chi that have been a cornerstone of mental wellness for millennia. We also use Eastern philosophy and mythology to illuminate some of the concepts our clients learn during treatment. With the Chinese New Year fast approaching, we’re going to take a closer look at the symbolism behind the animal sign of 2022, the Year of the Water Tiger.


A Year of Action and Great Change

In Chinese astrology and mythology, the tiger represents confidence, energy, strength, leadership, and purpose. This tells us it’s going to be a year of action and great change. It also gives us a very good clue as to how we’re to meet these changes. That is, with confidence and purpose. As we move through the months to come, we should be on the lookout for those crossroads of opportunity that arise. We should also be cognizant of how we’ve met these opportunities in the past. Remember: the mind doesn’t like change. It’d be much happier going the “safe” route and maintaining the status quo. For those of us who struggle with mental health issues, though, the “safe” route means dysfunctional patterns of thought and behavior. How many opportunities have we missed by maintaining the status quo? If we’re going to love life again, we must confidently resolve to take the uncomfortable path.


Balancing with Water

The Chinese system also assigns one of the five elements to each year with 2022 corresponding to water. Water is associated with wisdom and provides a nice balance to the shadow aspects of the tiger. Without this balance, confidence and purpose are in danger of slipping into arrogance and intractable narrow-mindedness. How, then, can we cultivate wisdom? We start by knowing ourselves. When we work with our therapists and learn to recognize those thought patterns we mentioned above, we’re cultivating wisdom. When we honestly take stock of our strengths and weaknesses, we’re cultivating wisdom. And when we develop alternative coping skills and strategies to deal with these and put them into action, we begin to move through life with purpose. We’re confidently making choices to engage with what life offers us.


Love Life Again

Barn Life Recovery is a community care facility specializing in major depressive disorders, generalized anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorders, ADHD, ADD, dissociative disorders, and obsessive-compulsive disorders.  We are advocating for people suffering from these mental illnesses so that they can receive the same quality and length of care currently only reserved for other disorder types.  Healing from mental illness takes time. However, when it is done correctly with a caring staff of professionals, the positive effects

We hope your takeaway from all of this is being motivated, empowered, and ready to start your self-love journey or continue on your path. Remember that you have survived this far and you will continue to thrive.

Improvisation: Flexibility and Creativity for Mental Wellness

Improvisation: Flexibility and Creativity for Mental Wellness


Improving Mental Wellness with Improvisation

What is improvisation, anyway? Google a definition and you’ll get “the act of improvising” – helpful, isn’t it? Let’s try looking up “improvising” then: “producing or making (something) from whatever is available.”  There we go! That we can work with. Improvisation, broadly speaking, is the art of making something from what’s available. There’s a good chance that thinking about improvisation brings to mind comedians like Colin Mochrie, Ryan Stiles, or Wayne Brady and their run on “Whose Line is it Anyway?” for some folks. You might think of Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, or Kate McKinnon. Saturday Night Live is probably up there. Some of the best moments in movies were totally unscripted and improvised. Pretty much all of Robin Williams’ lines in Aladdin (heck, most of Robin Williams’ work). Miracle Max in The Princess Bride. Willie Wonka’s summersault. The jewelry scene in Pretty Woman.

Responding, Not Reacting

So what the heck makes improvisation a good pick for this week’s theme? It’s right up there in that definition – making something from whatever is available. It’s about taking what you have on hand, what you’ve experienced and know, new things and old, and making something else from it all, to deal with whatever it is that’s going on. It would be easy enough to get hung up on the idea that improvisation is just reacting to the situation at hand and hoping for the best. But those folks listed before? What makes them really good at what they do? It’s not reacting but responding. It’s taking everything they’ve done before, everything they’re noticing in the moment, and thinking – very quickly – and offering up a response. It doesn’t form in a vacuum. It’s forged in the furnace of experience.

Some Practice Ideas for Mental Health

Getting through life, in a lot of ways, is about learning to improvise – make something from whatever is available. If you’re a parent, you probably improvise all the time. Forget to go grocery shopping and have a kid’s lunch to put together? Are you in a relationship? Ever forget something important and have to come up with something on the fly? As I sat down to write the theme for this week, I did some online digging about ways to be a better improviser, and I chuckled at how many of those tips mapped perfectly to ways to have a better life or to improve your mental health:
  • Learning to embrace your power and your fear
  • Feeling confident that whatever exists inside you is enough to deal with any situation that arises
  • Being a good, active listener
  • Being a better collaborator
  • Learn to be adaptable
  • Work on creativity and curiosity
  • Being in touch with your emotions
  • Be patient and practice
  • Think about the audience, if it doesn’t make sense to you, it won’t make sense to them
So this week, spend some time practicing those things. Let yourselves be curious. Work on being better listeners. Embrace your power and your fear. Really work on NOTICING. And when something comes up that you need to deal with, remember to take a deep breath, think about your audience, and respond to that situation by drawing on everything you’ve got at hand. For some inspiration, watch just about ANYTHING with Robin Williams in it, especially his live stuff where he interacts with the audience. Google “Whose Line is it Anyway?” and watch an episode or two. To really stretch your muscles, take an improv class some time (a lot of places have ‘Drop in’ nights where anyone is welcome to come.)
Weekly Theme: Returning to the Present

Weekly Theme: Returning to the Present

Returning to the Self and the Present concept - tree roots

Sometimes you hear a pull to return
Like a fish out of water hears the waves
Or a falcon hears the wind
“Come back, come back”
And return to the life
You are meant to live
And remember
There is no shame
In uprooting yourself
From the garden
That shunts your bloom
To return to a garden
That nurtures your roots

– Rumi


Rooting Your Self in Your Goals

The theme for this week is “Return.” I can relate to the need to uproot myself from what is familiar to try something unknown. Fourteen years ago, I packed up my truck and took a solo journey from Northern Michigan to Long Beach, California. And because I felt safe and supported in my new home, I stayed and allowed my roots to continue to grow. I’ve felt like I’m returning to something forgotten by coming to work at the Barn this year. Although it’s been unfamiliar and unknown, I’m beginning to recognize where my roots can grow.

This has taken me time, lots of observation, making sure coping strategies are accessible, and connecting with a sense of safety. Every time I took a risk to seek out something better, grounding exercises have been helpful to remind me that I am rooted in my goals to support people who are seeking support. Laying down new roots in a place that is nurturing has helped me face the unknown.


Grounding Your Self in the Present

Some of us will have the desire to return to old patterns as the holiday and new year approaches. It’s enticing to come back to what is familiar even if it is hurtful or destructive. And returning to something forgotten is uncomfortable and uncertain. So where can we return to if the old calls to us and the new scares us? We can return to self, to the present, to breath, to our own sense of home. Maybe your new home is a quiet place where you can be yourself. Alternatively, it can be taking some time to enjoy new connections you’ve made. Noticing these places, breathing, and remembering your purpose might help your return to the unknown feel easier. And soon it can feel as natural as a fish in water, a bird in flight, or a tree in earth.


Tools for Your Journey

Whether you will be returning to familiar places or returning to something new, it’s helpful to have accessible tools to get you through. Here are 30 grounding exercises to quiet distressing thoughts and return to the present.

Weekly Theme: Family and Accountability

Weekly Theme: Family and Accountability

Family and Accountability

The Value of Family

Family – a word that can carry such pain and yearning yet also warmth and purpose. Barn Life practices the value of “family.” Our actions are guided by this value often. “Accept everyone!” is our beautiful marching tune. We want everyone who walks through the gates to be treated as if they deserve a place at our table. No one should be invisible. This is part of the Barn Life magic. Part of caring about someone is holding them accountable. Holding them to the notion that we see more for them than what’s in front of them right now, and that we believe they are capable and deserving of a better life and sense of being. We remind them of their goals for joining the Barn Life client family.


Listening with an Open Heart

We want them to get the most out of being here and being “a part of” because they are deserving of it. None of us act as islands at Barn Life. In a healthy family dynamic, we must channel humility and openness when considering one another’s feedback. We are an eclectic bunch of unique, intelligent, and strong individuals who need others just like everyone else. Families either turn toward and unite in chaos or they turn away or even against each other. Let us all strive to continue turning toward.


Meeting the Needs of Others – and Our Own

For most of us, there are many things we’d leave behind with our families or like to change about them. However, we must not allow that to dictate our narratives or roles in our chosen families. We now have a chance to meet the needs of others in a healthy way. Additionally, we are permitted the opportunity to get our own needs met – needs which we wish our families had dutifully provided us – for security, for belonging, for intimacy, and overall, for safety. We have choices now! We didn’t as children. Let the pain of what never was turn into a dull ache. You’ll feel it sometimes, but not all of the time. It no longer needs to dictate your life or your identity. You can get your own needs met and invite people into your life who are actually capable of meeting your needs.


Some Things to Think About

Ask for the hug from the warm father figure. Receive soothing words of encouragement from the mother figure. Let them ground you in calm security. Tell yourself you will be okay. Fearing and trying to predict and control are all old blankets that are unnecessary now. Thank the family member who was a responsible constant in your life. Express appreciation for those around you and allow yourself to be seen. You can and will create a new sense of family for yourself.

Weekly Theme: What is Self-Love?

Weekly Theme: What is Self-Love?


Self-Love is a Basic Human Necessity

What are basic human necessities? Some include food, water, air, and shelter. These things we quite literally cannot live without. What if we told you self-love was a basic human necessity? Shocking, right? What is shocking about it is that individuals have difficulty with holding self-love to the same standard or importance as food and air. Why is self-love so difficult to attain? It’s said that loving yourself comes with facing what you may hate the most about yourself. A person very close to me once said “every morning when you look in the mirror, ask yourself ‘who am I going to make happy today?’” The answer is you!


Kindness Towards Ourselves

It is difficult to make “you” happy because we believe it all comes down to negativity bias. Many of us have received the message that life comes with struggles and we don’t all deserve happiness. We could receive this message due to neglect or abuse, someone telling us, or just a negative belief we have about ourselves. Plato wrote, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle”. So why not be kind to yourself? Who hasn’t dealt with betrayal, difficulties, or losses? Our belief is that Plato was not referring to others only. When he said everyone he was including yourself, too. Plato was on to something. He was highlighting that individuals growing up without enough acceptance or kindness would hold onto failures, mistakes, or shortcomings. Again, we ask the question why?


Finding Strength and Resiliency

Research says that our ancestors had an innate response and survival to avoid danger. Because of this, there was little value or survival in stopping to smell the roses. This all goes to say that we truly deserve happiness, through the lens of self-love. This is not an easy feat though because happiness is not entitled. We must create it. We can create it by finding fulfillment through finding the connection with our inner peace and happiness. Once we find that connection, we can then cultivate compassion towards ourselves. Someone may argue “but I take a bubble bath once a week and go for massages sometimes.” Although these things may help, the inner work of finding strength and resiliency is what is needed to have self-love.


How to Achieve Self-Love

Another key piece to this puzzle is feeling. In order to have self-love, one must feel the full range of emotions entitled to human beings. That’s a scary thought because that means the individual must face the music, feel the feelings and sit with their emotions. Is that okay? YES! That is taking the necessary steps towards self-compassion, self-acceptance, and self-love. Last question, how do I achieve this? Look to the following scenarios and skills to support the journey of self-love.

  • Next time you feel sad, hurt, or embarrassed, try taking a few slow breathes and notice the feeling. Allow your body to have an emotion and just simply notice the feeling.
  • Seek out professional help.
  • Stop comparing yourself to others. The only person you can be is yourself.
  • Don’t worry about others’ opinions. Remember that opinions are neither true nor false. They are someone’s thoughts and perceptions.
  • Forgive yourself when you make a mistake. You’re only human.
  • Don’t be afraid to let go of people that are not good for you.
  • Value comes from within. The way you look does not determine your value.
  • Process what you fear.
  • Trust yourself.
  • Take every opportunity life presents to you.
  • Put yourself first.
  • Do the things you enjoy.
  • See the beauty in the simple things.
  • Be kind to yourself.
  • Be patient with yourself.

We hope your takeaway from all of this is being motivated, empowered, and ready to start your self-love journey or continue on your path. Remember that you have survived this far and you will continue to thrive.